WILMINGTON- Up to 50 people attended an informational meeting at Memorial Hall on a proposed wind project slated for the towns of Searsburg and Readsboro. PPM Energy, of Portland, OR is requesting authorization by the Public Service Board to construct and operate a 17-turbine 34-35.7 MW wind generation facility on approximately 80 acres in the Green Mountain National Forest, located in Readsboro and Searsburg. The proposed wind project will provide electricity to 14,000-16,000 homes and the town of Wilmington was gathering information to determine whether or not the town should support it. In addition, the selectboard also invited experts to explain the benefits of wind power (or lack thereof) and answer any questions.
Jim Matteau, executive director of the Windham Regional Committee, broke down the specifics of the wind project and the process for obtaining a certificate of public good. The general project will include 17 wind turbines, each 408 feet high, approximately 100 feet higher than the Statue of Liberty and the Bennington Monument. Matteau also noted that the Searsburg facility currently produces 6.05 MW and found that over a twelve-month period operated at a capacity factor of 27%. If the new turbines were to go up, they would operate at a capacity of 30-33%. If the wind speed is doubled, Matteau said the amount of power extracted can increase by a factor of eight. Under Act 248, Matteau informed the audience, the regulatory process will determine whether or not the project is built and under what conditions. The Public Service Board makes the final decision but it can be appealed through the state supreme court. Matteau said he does not know what role the WRC will play in the decision-making process but did have some words of advice for the future of the Deerfield Valley.
“Small dispersed electric generation projects may collectively solve the big problem. I don’t see us building any more big plants. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind building a new nuclear plant. I don’t think big is beautiful anymore in Vermont so we’re going to see more small projects pop up,” said Matteau. “Our rate of electric consumption is growing faster than our population and our economy. There are many scenarios in which a better energy use, even with more conservation and efficiency, will nonetheless result in us still using more electricity than we can produce. Better energy use does not mean less electricity use, and I ask the people of Wilmington, ‘Is this wind proposal part of an answer and if so, is it the best it can be?’”
Following Matteau was Rob McGregor, of Fairwind Vermont, a citizen organization promoting the state’s wind energy resources in Londonderry. McGregor acknowledged the potential impact wind power may have on real estate and tourism but shared his experience that Boulder, CO, another resort town, was able to adapt wind energy into their plans.
“The biggest advantage or disadvantage is what do the people of Wilmington make of it? I think the best way to illustrate is Colorado and almost every business has a sticker that says ‘this business is 100% wind.’ They have purchased renewable energy credits to offset their electrical use and turned it into a PR bonanza,” said McGregor. “I think there is a lesson to be learned from this and for towns like Wilmington that are dependent on the ski industry.”
Sandy Wilbur, of the Vermont Energy Conservancy, also spoke in support of renewables but was more cautious about the negative side effects wind may present.
“There’s a lot of questions (regarding wind power) and for good reason. But there are other solutions. There is more biomass energy in New England than we know. Industrial energy cannot replace Vermont Yankee and if we decide to make up the difference with HydroQuebec and long-term contracts, biomass could provide more jobs. We’d also have more trees,” said Wilbur. “(But wind power) could open up our forests to industrial development but you have to weigh the benefits and the impact very carefully and ask how will it benefit rate payers, who will purchase the power, and what about unforeseen environmental damage?”
While the panel provided insights on alternatives to the wind project, the question and answer session was more engaging. Many in the audience had concerns and doubts regarding the Deerfield Wind Project.
Susan Haughwout, of Wilmington, said she had heard rumors that they were no longer building small wind turbines and the ones currently on site in Searsburg may be replaced by taller ones. Neil Habig, project manager for the Deerfield Wind Project, could not confirm or deny the rumors but said for the time being it did not fit into the current plans.
Lynne Matthews, also of Wilmington, asked if Habig could provide the the wind speed of the turbines and describe what category they would fall into. Habig responded that the wind speeds of the turbines were proprietary and that he was not familiar with the category chart itself. Many in the audience laughed at Habig’s response as one person shouted back, “You don’t want us to know the truth.” But for Matthews, ignorance was no excuse. “You should know that,” she said to a round of applause.
To learn more about the Deerfield Wind Project go to http://www.state.vt.us/psb/document/7250Deerfield/deerfield-main.htm or http://www.clearskyvt.org/ for opposing viewpoints.
By Christian Avard
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