On Wednesday, December 12, the Wilmington Selectboard will vote whether or not to approve the Deerfield Wind Project Proposal. The Deerfield Wind Project will comprise 17 wind turbines and generate up to 34-35.7 MW of electricity. Approximately 14,000-16,000 homes will benefit from the wind project and 80 acres of Green Mountain National Forest have been set aside for potential development. PPM Energy, of Portland, OR is applying for a certificate of public good and the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) will determine whether or not the project gets the green light. The selectboard vote may determine if the wind project will be approved and supporters of the wind project are making their case.
“There is a lot of support out there,” said Bert Wurzberger of Wilmington. Wurzberger is a life-long resident of Wilmington and studied wind development at the New Alchemy Institute, formerly in Cape Cod, MA. Growing up and working at his father’s store in downtown Wilmington, Wurzberger recalls the increase in tourism after the Searsburg Wind Project was established.
“I’ve recounted (a lot of) people who came to see the windmills, traveled through, and heard they existed here,” said Wurzberger. “We often communicated with customers about why they’re here and I’ve never heard negative comments about the present windmills from tourists.”
Wurzberger believes the Searsburg Wind Project has benefited the community and if the Deerfield Wind Project is approved it can enhance the town’s vitality.
“In recent years, the fall foliage tourist business has been in decline. Local businesses are losing sales and the decline is mostly the result of badly damaged foliage colors, increased costs of maple syrup production, and it impacts local retail sales,” said Wurzberger. “Acid rain is reaping huge damage upon our local environment (and economy) and to reverse this damage, we need to create nontoxic methods of energy generation.”
At an October 10 informational meeting, Wilmington residents raised many concerns about the Deerfield Wind Project. Many individuals believed it would negatively impact ridge lines, real estate property values, and not provide sufficient electricity. While proponents recognize the arguments against the wind project, they also believe that the benefits outweigh the negative effects.
Opponents indicate that no construction can occur above 2,500 feet according to Act 250 guidelines. But according to Neil Habig, of PPM Energy, the guidelines are straightforward. “The current process for reviewing wind farms is under section 248 of Title 30. In 2004, the Governor’s Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy found that Act 250 criteria are identical to those reviewed under section 248. As a result, the commission recognized the potential for duplication and inefficiency, and suggested that modest modification of section 248 could address issues that arise from the development of large-scale wind projects. Section 248 does not contain a restriction on development above 2,500 feet,” said Habig.
Many raised concern that national forests should be preserved from commercial development and 80 acres is too much. In the bigger picture Wurzberger believes it’s not as big as people make it out to be.
“I don’t agree we should have them on every mountainside, but it’s only, very small percentage of land we really need,” said Wurzberger. “One percent is not too much. If it’s 20%-30% then we’re reaching a point where we’re taking too much. If we’re going to lose some land on national forest we can purchase other land that is useful. The loss of land is also small in comparison to moving toward a sustainable future where we can protect land from global warming and acid rain. We’re giving away some land in order to get a healthier environment.”
The proposed wind turbines will stand 410 feet and opponents argue that property values may plummet as a result. However evidence suggests that wind farms do not have a negative effect on property values and, according to Habig, there have been no studies to the contrary.
“A government-funded scientific study conducted in 2003 by the Renewable Energy Policy Project examined 25,000 real estate transactions within five miles of 10 wind farms built in the United States between 1998 and 2001. In a majority of cases, properties that had a view of wind turbines appreciated in real estate value more quickly than nearby properties without a view,” said Habig. “A 2006 study conducted by Ryan Wiser and Ben Hoen, of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, also found that data from 3,638 home sales transactions near six communities with wind projects in Pennsylvania, New York, Iowa, and Illinois indicated no effect on sales price from proximity to wind projects.”
In other instances, opponents debate how efficient wind power really is. According to a twelve-month study conducted by the Windham Regional Commission, researchers found that the Searsburg Wind Facility operated at a capacity factor of 27%. Opponents have indicated in the past that it’s not an efficient source of power and that most of the time, the windmills are not turning. But according to Dottie Schnure, manager of corporate communications for Green Mountain Power, there’s more than meets the eye.
“(Let’s compare windmills) with hydroelectric power. You don’t get hydro generation all the time. You get high generation when you have enough water but when you get that generation, it’s good, clean, low-cost power, same thing with wind,” said Schnure. “We know it’s not going to be there 100% of the time but the system is built to accommodate that and use that and it’s very useful. We don’t know on a day-to-day basis when to expect it but we do know it gets its strongest generation in the winter months and Vermonters use a lot during the winter and it’s coincident with when we have the high demand. We generate 11 million KW a year and that’s not coming from a fossil fuel plant. Wind turbines are not expected to have a 100% capacity factor.”
“Wilmington residents have before them the opportunity to support or oppose a project that is good for the environment, generates enough electricity to serve nearly three-quarters of all households in Windham County, and does so emission free without the combustion of fossil fuel,” said Habig. “This has been studied extensively and is going through rigorous state and federal review. Years from now is this something that Wilmington residents will reflect proudly on for supporting or opposing?”
For Wurzberger, the answer is yes.
“The first wind project was beneficial to the tourist economy. People who oppose the windmills are concerned that the new windmills are going to be much larger and whether or not it will negatively impact the area. It’s impossible to say but my belief is it will still be a beneficial thing because of the concern people have about global warming and sustainable energy. It’s much more in focus now than it had been in the past. Had they built a large-scale windmill 10 years ago, I don’t know, but I think today people want to see a rapid transition to sustainable energy and in the Northeast there’s not many opportunities for wind power. I think we can advertise it as a positive thing that we are working toward a sustainable future here in Vermont,” said Wurzberger.
By Christian Avard
6 December 2007
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