We can all agree on the urgency to develop and use more renewable energy sources in this country. However, in our opinion, the Northfield Ridge is not the appropriate site for a utility-scale, industrial wind turbine installation. While this might initially sound like an appealing part of the solution, projects like the one proposed come with enormous environmental damage to irreplaceable natural resources and negative impacts for the entire community, especially on those who live within two miles of the turbines.
We do not believe that the negative consequences are worth the modest reductions in carbon footprint. We also know that there are other alternatives that can have a more positive impact on our carbon footprint and are more compatible with Vermont’s scenic beauty, quality of life and local economy.
Citizens Wind, a for-profit corporation based in Boston, is proposing to build 20 to 30 utility-scale wind turbines, of up to 450 feet tall, on the Northfield Ridge. These towers will be taller than any building in the entire state of Vermont. The town and “hosting” landowners would get annual payments, based on the amount of electricity generated.
But, while a few may benefit financially, many more would suffer from the loss of an invaluable natural resource (Northfield Ridge), destruction of the last remaining large tract of unbroken forest in Waitsfield, permanent change in the landscape, decreases in property values and in the ability to enjoy their property on a daily basis.
There is no dispute about the major impact of industrial wind facility construction. Building wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines requires constructing roads up to and along the ridgeline capable of holding 200,000-pound components, rotor blades more than 150 feet long and the massive construction equipment required for site preparation, transportation and erection of the industrial wind turbines.
Construction requires blasting, potentially using hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives, which can negatively impact headwaters that drain into the Mad River as well as subsurface aquifers. Thousands of truckloads of aggregate and concrete are required to travel up the mountain to build the roadbed and turbine bases. Roads of this sort fragment wildlife habitat and therefore constitute a significant threat to wildlife, in addition to permanently changing Vermont’s beautiful ridgelines.
Images of such construction are available at the town planning commission blog http://planwithus.blogspot.com/2010/06/anti-wind.html.
Development projects of the size and type proposed by Citizens Energy create noise problems specific to industrial wind turbine generators. There are confirmed, worldwide reports about incessant low-frequency noise that interferes with sleep and overall well-being, resulting in health problems so serious that some people have to walk away from their homes or sell out to wind companies. Livestock are affected as well. These impacts affect those living as much as two or three miles from turbine locations. The range and intensity of the noise can be amplified by terrain, particularly by ridgelines and valleys. The three-megawatt (MW) turbines being proposed for our community have only been used in one other location in New England, in an area of Maine that is much more remote and sparsely populated than the Northfield Ridge. An installation of 3MW turbines on Northfield Ridge would in effect be an experimental installation so close to residences.
There are other detrimental impacts such as light pollution in the night sky from flashing red strobes required on each turbine. Additionally, the placement of such tall structures atop our ridgeline would have a negative impact on the Mad River Valley as a premier soaring location for gliders. The list goes on and on.
Citizens Wind only develops such projects. They will sell any Northfield Ridge development, at a profit, and would then leave Waitsfield while the new purchaser would build and operate the facility. Who has the best long-term interest of Waitsfield and the Mad River Valley at heart? Those who live, work, raise their families and recreate here, or those who breeze into town for a short term, seek to develop a protected, treasured resource and then move on to the next project?
We can let an outside corporation come into Waitsfield and divide our town, or we can work together to develop energy projects that are consistent with our quality of life, consistent with Vermont’s unique character, have a greater impact in reducing our carbon footprint and do not result in destruction of unique and irreplaceable natural resources. There are other solutions to the pressing need to have a better energy policy for our community, state and nation. Together, we will find ones that work for us.
David and Avril Howe live in Waitsfield and submitted this op-ed piece on behalf of the Friends of Northfield Ridge.
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