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Lowell wind hearings end, ruling due in May

Three weeks of hearings about the Lowell wind project ended Thursday in Montpelier, a day earlier than scheduled.

In March, the Vermont Public Service Board, the state’s utility regulator, will collect final briefs from all the parties involved and is expected to announce its decision in May.

Green Mountain Power, with its partners Vermont Electric Cooperative and the transmission company VELCO, has asked for a certificate of public good to erect 20 to 21 industrial turbines on the Lowell ridge line in a project called Kingdom Community Wind. The board has already granted permission for other large wind projects, including one in Sheffield.

GMP hopes to begin construction this summer and begin to supply electricity to its customers and VEC members by the end of 2012.

VELCO is also seeking to upgrade its transmission lines in the area to handle the potential 63 megawatts of electricity the wind project could create.

Meanwhile, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is holding a hearing 6 p.m. Wednesday at Lowell Graded School about GMP’s request for a storm-water runoff permit during construction of the wind project.

The wind project has been in the news this week, with opponents staging a protest Thursday on the steps of the Statehouse in Montpelier across the street from the hearings. Gov. Peter Shumlin, who supports the project, stopped in Lowell Thursday to see the wind site for himself.

Also on Thursday, GMP and ANR gave the Public Service Board the details of an agreement to protect environmental resources on the ridge line. GMP agreed to address ANR concerns about bear habitat and fragmentation with “significant mitigation measures” that will protect wildlife in and around Lowell, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said Friday.

Under the agreement, GMP will conserve more than 900 acres of natural habitat. GMP will permanently restrict development and restore the site when it is no longer used for renewable energy production.

“Restoring the site means that Green Mountain Power will break up the road to make it more conducive to re-vegetation as well as work with the ANR on a plan to replant the area,” Schnure said.

“Reaching agreement with the ANR was very important to us, as our goal is to built this wind project in the most environmentally responsible manner. We believe that by addressing ANR’s concerns, we have set a new standard that future Vermont projects will have to meet,” Schnure said. “This project is an important part of Green Mountain Power’s strategy to provide its customers with long-term, stably priced renewable energy.”

GMP will sell electricity from the project at cost to Vermont Electric Cooperative. VEC serves most of Orleans County.