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Unintended consequences  

Credit:  By Win Smith, The Valley Reporter, www.valleyreporter.com 2 September 2010 ~~

In my opinion, there is no question that we need to reduce our dependency on foreign oil and also move more rapidly away from dependency on carbon-based fuels and towards various forms of renewable energy as well as focusing on energy efficiency and conservation. As in any change, there are numerous factors to weigh as we move towards a sustainable future so that unintended consequences do not offset the benefits of a particular action.

I have listened to the different voices of opinion on the proposed Northfield Ridge industrial wind development and have done my own research. I have concluded that these proposed turbines are not in the best interest of The Valley.

I am also very concerned with the lack of transparency and seeming duplicity that is being carried on by Citizens Wind as well as their lack of credentials to implement a project of this size. They have stated publicly that they would not force a contract on a town that was reluctant or not interested. Despite the reaffirmation of the Waitsfield Town Plan restricting development above 1,700 feet, Citizens Wind continues to go door to door in Waitsfield and on the eastern side of the ridge in an attempt to lease property for their turbines. They have even produced a map showing landowners with whom they have “made contact” and received a “positive response.”

THIRTY-FOUR TURBINES

The map shows 34 turbines in an “initial layout” and seems to indicate that they have at least 13 positive responses from landowners. Ten of these turbines seem to be on the property of a single landowner. It appears that two or three turbines are planned on the town-owned Scrag parcel which is protected by a conservation easement. This Northfield Ridge project was also posted on a website called Works in Progress, but subsequently it was taken down when Citizens Energy “received several phone calls and emails” about what they say was a false posting. It would appear based on their actions that Citizens Wind, a for-profit subsidiary of Citizens Energy, plans to move forward and to submit a proposal to the Public Service Board despite the Town Plan not permitting development on the ridge and substantial public opposition to the project.

They also seem intent upon “educating” us about this wind project. What they really need to do is educate us about themselves. Citizens Energy has been involved with philanthropic endeavors for years, but little is known about Citizens Wind.

I would like to see details, including financial details, of projects Citizens Wind says they have in process. I would like to see their audited financials, biographies of the board of directors and management of Citizens Wind and details about how they are going to raise the necessary capital to construct and maintain an industrial development of the size contemplated.

FINANCIAL CAPACITY?

Does Citizens Wind have the financial capacity to make good on their promise of big money to the town and to individual landowners? What are the terms they are offering landowners? Who will own and operate their turbines over time? These are only a few key items we should understand before we spend any more time with them.

In an online search, I am unable to find out very much about Citizens Wind and their track record. In my 30 years in the world of finance, I have seen many slick PowerPoint presentations that had little substance behind them. We need to know a lot more about the substance of Citizens Wind before we engage further.

However, my opposition to this proposal is not about wind turbines per se or Citizens Wind.

“SEE THAT VIEW?”

Many years ago, the citizens of this Valley recognized the precious natural resources that we have and that made this Valley special. It is why so many people choose to live here and why so many choose to visit throughout the year. On one of my first visits, a Valley friend I was skiing with stopped at the top of Upper Snowball and said, “See that view? That is the view people will see hundreds of years from now.” This is a large reason why I have invested in Sugarbush and chosen to become a full-time resident of The Valley.

The towns of The Valley understand our precious resources and have worked hard to protect them. Had they not limited development at higher elevations, we would now have houses all over the ridge and possibly unsightly commercial developments as well. Had they not protected the meadows, we might look more like a valley suburb in New Hampshire than the Mad River Valley.

In fairness, one could say that a ski resort and its cut trails and lifts “scar” the environment, too. However, the federal and state governments decades ago, with the agreement of all the towns and after thorough impact studies, determined that this form of recreation created the right balance to achieve both economic and environmental sustainability in the Mad River Valley. And, if we choose to do anything, we need to go through a thorough and open review process at both the local and state level as well as the U.S. Forest Service for most things.

ALTER CHARACTER

Each of our town plans in The Valley has been thoughtfully constructed. In Warren, it is very clear what is considered a growth center or commercial area and what is not. Thirty- four or more wind turbines with blade diameters surpassing the wingspan of a 747 and standing 40 stories high with flashing red aircraft warning lights would permanently alter the character and the beauty of our Valley and, in my opinion, would have dire consequences on many Valley businesses and negatively affect housing prices and the tax base in The Valley. Furthermore, the heavy construction, transmission line corridors, and permanent roads and service buildings would likely have a negative impact on important wildlife habitat in that area and possibly create significant erosion control issues as well.

I have looked at existing projects such as Mars Hill and Kibby Mountain in Maine (both of which installed the new, larger turbines), and I would encourage all to examine what these projects do to the landscape. It appears that the roads and one-acre minimum clearcuts below the towers would remain graveled surfaces in order to accommodate year-round 24/7 routine and emergency turbine maintenance by employees of the power plant. Total disturbance of each project is hundreds of acres.

NOT ON THE RIDGES

There is a place for wind, but not on the ridges of the Mad River Valley that have been protected from development for all the right reasons.

Vermont’s former governor, Howard Dean, recently said on VPR, “If you want Vermont to stay Vermont, it’s because of the land and the landscape. Those kinds of things can never be replaced once they’re lost.”

While I am totally opposed to wind turbines and other development on our ridges, I think that we have an opportunity to thoughtfully bring more solar to The Valley and to consider other renewable energy sources such as biomass and hydro and possibly wind properly sited and scaled.

RE-EXAMINE SECTION 248

However, I believe that we need to examine how these projects will be approved in the future so that neighbors, towns and other interested parties have the right to review them, comment and have their concerns taken seriously when decisions are made. This has not been the case with recent solar installations along Route 100. While it includes similar considerations as in Act 250, the Vermont statute, Section 248 in fact allows the PSB to waive any of these considerations at will. The Public Service Board, which was originally created to streamline permitting for cell tower construction, is now the governing voice on industrial power plant construction and power generation. I think our Legislature in the next session needs to re-examine Section 248. I would not want the PSB to approve 34 wind turbines on the Northfield Ridge if we, in The Valley, were opposed to them. This could happen.

Smith lives in Warren and is president of Sugarbush Resort.

Source:  By Win Smith, The Valley Reporter, www.valleyreporter.com 2 September 2010

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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