WILMINGTON- The town voted to oppose a plan to put many as 17 wind turbines on ridge lines in Searsburg and Readsboro at a special Town Meeting Wednesday evening.
After a short discussion, voters approved a motion to oppose the project in a 51 to 15 vote. Voters supported a second motion to fund the opposition with $40,000 in a 49-14 vote. The selectboard will use the money to argue the town’s opposition to the project in hearings before the Vermont Public Service Board. Earlier this fall, the board requested “intervener” status in the public service board’s hearing process. “Intervener” status allows the town, through legal counsel, to play an active role in the hearings, cross-examining witnesses, providing expert witnesses, and introducing testimony.
Before voters sounded off, selectboard member Rob Wheeler noted that the outcome of the meeting wouldn’t lock the board into a course of action. If circumstances regarding the project change, he said, the selectboard reserves the right to change their course of action. “The selectboard is not bound by any vote, it’s advisory in nature,” he said. “As we move forward and go through the process, things may evolve and change. Circumstances may arise, and the board needs to be able to act in the best interest of the town.”
Local resident and cable television operator Cliff Duncan offered the motion to oppose the project. Duncan is deeply involved in the issue, and he said he and his wife have requested party status to the hearings on aesthetic grounds, and on behalf of his business, over concerns the turbines will affect his reception of television signals from the west. He’s also involved with a group called Save Vermont Ridgelines, which is also seeking party status.
“This is a very controversial subject,” he said. “The thing that struck me about this from the beginning is the scale; these are huge devices.”
Wilmington resident Dick Joyce, who operates a tour boat business on Harriman Reservoir, said he was originally a proponent of wind power, but had changed his mind when he looked at figures indicating how much energy would be produced annually, and how much is produced annually by the turbines currently operating at the site. “Last year, all 11 turbines produced as much electricity as Vermont Yankee does in 18 hours,” he said.
Joyce said the proposed turbines would degrade the area’s appeal as a scenic recreation area. “We’re not a honky-tonk area, we’re an area that depends on its natural beauty,” he said.
Joyce, supported by other speakers, said the current turbines were “21% efficient” according to their calculations, meaning the turbines are not running 79% of the time. But in an interview Thursday morning, Green Mountain Power spokesperson Dottie Schnure said the calculation didn’t properly measure “efficiency.” Unlike nuclear or fossil fuel-generated power, wind power uses a no-cost commodity, wind, and produces saleable electricity with no waste byproduct.
“Wind is the most efficient power there is,” she said. “It’s about 99% efficient. Intermittent doesn’t mean inefficient. And while it’s running, it means another generator, a fossil fuel generator, is offline.”
Green Mountain Power is in negotiations to purchase a portion of the power produced at the facility.
Wilmington resident and planning commission member Lynne Matthews said she was opposed to siting the turbines on national forest land, and at an elevation that supports a particularly delicate environment. “I’m against these large industrial wind turbines that are going to invade our National Forest,” Matthews said. “If the state allows this in our National Forest, it will open up a can of worms throughout the country. I don’t believe these 410-foot-tall turbines are going to be efficient, they’re going to cast a red light across the valley.”
Only Wilmington resident Selma Schiffer spoke out against Duncan’s motion, and in favor of the wind turbine project. She said alternative energy generation was vital to cutting the output of industrial effluent. “For the ‘not in my backyard’ crowd, the more compelling argument is the need to take this small step to stop the degradation of our environment,” she said. “The opponents are part of the problem, not part of the solution. How will these people answer their children and grandchildren when we’re becoming an endangered species.”
Under “other business,” Boyd Hill Road resident Bruce Mullen offered a nonbinding motion asking the selectboard to warn another town meeting before spending any of the $40,000 on a strategy that substantially differs from that which voters approved. “If the selectboard believes they’re going in a different direction than opposing the project, they should come back to the voters at a Town Meeting,” Mullen said. Mullen’s motion passed unanimously.
By Mike Eldred
14 December 2007
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