September 1, 2010

Irasburg residents discuss Lowell wind project

Written by Chris Braithwaite Published on September 1, 2010 The Chronicle,

IRASBURG – A substantial number of Irasburg residents gathered Tuesday night to discuss the proposed Lowell Mountain wind project. They did so despite the fact that, in the words of Steve Wright of the Craftsbury Conservation Commission, “The train has left the station.”
What he meant was that the permitting process for the $160-million project is already under way before the state Public Service Board, and the deadline to apply for “party status” was August 13.
Unless it makes an extraordinary effort to convince the Public Service Board (PSB) to waive its own rules, Irasburg will be a spectator to the permitting process, rather than a participant.
Just how much of a spectator Irasburg would be to the project itself wasn’t clear to some people at the meeting.
“Are we going to be able to see them from that window?” asked Wanda Lanou, referring to the big windows on the second floor of the Irasburg Town Hall. They look across the village common towards Lowell Mountain, where Green Mountain Power wants to put 20 or 21 industrial wind towers, standing up to 443 feet tall.
Mr. Wright said he wasn’t sure, but he figured that the project would be visible from Burton Hill, and from Route 14 where it crosses Lord’s Creek.
“Shame on anybody who wants to disturb what you can look out that window and see tonight,” said Ms. Lanou to considerable applause.
That response signaled a meeting that was considerably more partisan than its model, and early-August meeting in Craftsbury hosted by the Craftsbury Conservation Commission.
The Irasburg meeting was attended by a considerable group from Lowell, opponents and advocates for wind, though the advocates seemed to predominate.
It was also attended by three spokesmen for Green Mountain Power (GMP). And while they were asked to sit silent in Craftsbury, the GMP representatives actively participated in Tuesday’s discussion.
Asked if GMP would undertake the project without the financial incentives the government has made available to support renewable energy, GMP’s Robert Dostis said no.
“If it wasn’t there, Green Mountain Power wouldn’t build it,” Mr. Dostis said of the subsidy, which he said would amount to about two cents per kilowatt hour generated by the project.
He added that any savings generated by the power would go to GMP’s customers, rather than to the “merchant generators” who are pursuing wind projects elsewhere in Vermont.
Asked if GMP would put up $100,000 to help opponents hire experts to scrutinize the project, Mr. Dostis’ answer was the same – “No.”
But he emphasized, in response to a question, that there would be no strings on the “good neighbor” payments promised to neighboring towns, like Irasburg, over the project’s first ten years of operation.
And, Mr. Dostis said, leases already signed with four landowners who would host the project contain no “gag clause” that would prevent them from sharing their feelings, positive or negative, about the impact of the big turbines.
Such agreements have been commonly extracted by wind developers in other states who lease land, or compensate neighbors who complain about the project’s noise.
Rene Royer, who said he has been hunting on Lowell Mountain for 20 years, asked about the impact on the deer, moose and bear he has pursued there.
Also a fisherman, Mr. Royer asked about the impact on streams that might be caused by the clear cutting the project will require.
According to the commission, the access road to the project from Route 100 and the road linking the towers along three miles of ridgeline would be cleared to widths up to 170 feet. Clearings for the towers themselves would measure 475 feet across.
Mr. Wright said GMP has addressed the issue through expert testimony filed with its application, and urged Mr. Royer to read it.
Mike Nelson asked if GMP planned to study the impact of very low-frequency noise on neighbors. While the PSB has limited audible noise generated by other projects, there is growing concern about the effects of low-frequency noise on neighbors who say they can’t sleep and suffer other health effects.
Mr. Nelson said these concerns have led to an effort in New Mexico to keep turbines three miles away from the nearest homes. By that standard, he said, 350 people in Albany “live in the shadow where they expect these health effects.”
Mr. Nelson’s concerns were vigorously attacked by Dave Robitille of Lowell – a retired registered nurse – as “a piece of crap.”
He said the studies documenting such effects are bad science that lack peer review.
Bill Roddy challenged wind power on the grounds that it is only generated when the wind blows, and so can’t replace the big Midwestern coal plants whose smokestacks generated Tuesday morning’s haze over Lowell Mountain. However, he said of the wind project, “It’s going to ruin this area.”

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