Vermont Community Wind Farm announced Monday it had “no current plans to proceed” with building what would have been the state’s largest wind farm in and around Ira.
Spokesman Jeffrey Wennberg said the company was too uncertain about certain aspects of the permitting process to go forward, but that developer Per White-Hansen would hold onto leases associated with the project.
“There’s a potential to bring the project back, but circumstances would have to change,” Wennberg said. “He’s not selling the leases.”
Wennberg said the company was concerned with the way stormwater issues with other proposed projects in the state remained unresolved and with questions over habitat protection at Herrick Mountain, the site of the bulk of the project.
Wennberg said the habitat issue was not something that had been identified at the start of the process.
“It arose, very unexpectedly, late in the game,” he said. “We said all along we did not want to proceed without (Vermont Agency of Natural Resources) support.”
ANR Secretary Jonathan Wood said he was surprised to hear the news from a reporter late Monday afternoon.
“Our expectation was to be working with them for a while on these issues,” he said.
Utility projects are exempt from Act 250, but go though a permit process before the Public Service Board in which ANR is a statutory party. Wood said ANR looks at specific animal habitats as well as “natural communities” – collections of interdependent species.
An ecologist from the Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife notified VCWF late last year that the department found “rare and irreplaceable natural areas” in the project zone.
“What they are is unique habitats, unique types of communities, that occur in the forest,” Wood said. “We have evaluated other projects in terms of these types of concerns and not found any issues. … You don’t have much concern when there are one or two of these areas a developer can go around. Here, you have a number of them.”
However, Wood said those concerns were not necessarily enough to scuttle the project, and that the agency generally works with developers to reconfigure projects in a way that would minimize impacts.
Wood also said that ANR has issued stormwater permits to two wind projects, though one of those is under appeal.
Since the project was announced just over a year ago, it has faced increasing public opposition in Ira. Complaints have included the destruction of scenic views, potential environmental impacts and supposed health effects of noise generated by spinning turbines.
Ira rewrote its town plan to discourage industrial wind turbines on ridgelines – the PSB is not bound by town plans but must give them “due consideration” – and voted at town meeting to support renewable energy development within those guidelines.
“I’m taking off my clothes right now,” said Peter Cosgrove, one of the organizers of the opposition in Ira, upon hearing the news. “I’m going to run outside in the rain naked.”
Cosgrove said he was delighted to hear the broad pressure brought by the community appeared to have paid off.
Word of project traveled ahead of a formal announcement after residents in Middletown Springs stumbled into VCWF’s Web site last year. The project originally included potential sites in Ira, Middletown Springs, Poultney, Clarendon, Tinmouth and West Rutland, though it was pared down repeatedly.
Clarendon’s Select Board came out officially against the project. Though sites in Clarendon were eliminated one of the times the proposal was reconfigured, Chairman Michael Klopchin greeted the news Monday.
“As far as I’m concerned, let them go up by Montpelier with all this green energy,” he said. “Let them try it up there. … It seems like the little guy, the little communities in this state, have finally won one. It makes me happy.”
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