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CVPS buys Deerfield power despite project impacts ‘too substantial to be mitigated’

Environmental groups expressed concern about the announcement today by Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) that the utility has agreed to purchase two-thirds of the output from the Iberdrola Renewables’ Deerfield Wind Project. The project has been widely criticized due to concerns over destruction of bear habitat, use of public lands, and noise impacts. Energize Vermont, local residents and industry observers have all expressed concern that the project, and now CVPS’s support, only enhances the likelihood of unduly adverse environmental impacts on a highly sensitive area.

The project proposed for land in the Green Mountain National Forest is home to an extensive and genetically distinct bear population. In the Public Service Board (PSB) review process, Agency of Natural Resources scientists testified that they found that the impacts on the bear population would be “too substantial to be mitigated” and recommended that the project not be built.

The PSB issued a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) anyway in April 2009, indicating in an opinion supporting the 2-1 vote in favor that, “meeting electrical demands of regional consumers” outweighed local environmental concerns, and that, “the renewable source of power in the region is beneficial to the State.” The PSB’s focus on the regional benefit is a departure from other CPGs, where the focus has been solely on the State’s benefit.

The project’s impact on black bear habitat was a specific concern for PSB member John Burke, who opposed issuing the Certificate, and wrote in his minority opinion that, “the project will have adverse impacts on black bears and bear habitat, and that as proposed, the project offers insufficient benefits to offset those adverse impacts.”

The Green Mountain National Forest is public land conserved since 1932 and supports a variety of wildlife including beaver, moose, black bear, and white tailed deer. Deerfield Wind has proposed “gating the access road, utilizing remote cameras to deter illegal entry, patrolling by law enforcement, limiting activity at the project“ as methods of mitigating impact and keeping public usage to a minimum. Hunter Justin Turco said, “It is unfortunate that a local utility would look to limit usage of publicly conserved lands without regard to their existing uses.”

Since the project is to be built in a National Forest, it will require a permit from the US Forest Service in addition to the CPG. The US Forest Service permit process includes a public comment period which has already generated even more criticism of the project.

The project has also been criticized for its potential noise and health impacts. GIS maps show that there are 149 structures within two miles of proposed turbine locations, the area in which humans will be most susceptible to noise. Noise from utility-scale turbines around the world has been connected to health problems associated with sleep deprivation, hypertension, depression, and other impacts. Nearby landowner Tom Shea expressed concern that the project could reduce the quality of life of neighbors substantially, “The existing, smaller turbines, are already too noisy. They were also promised to be unobtrusive, which is definitely not the case for me or my family. I fear these will be much worse.” The existing Searsburg turbines are 197 feet tall. The PSB approved Iberdrola’s plan to use 410 foot tall turbines.

This is not the first controversial project CVPS has purchased power from. The utility also has an agreement with Noble Environmental Power’s Coos County, NH wind power plant that has faced similar environmental criticisms. This has prompted environmental activists like Lisa Linowes of Industrial Wind Action Group to point out, “This is the second project CVPS signed on to that will result in significant and permanent destruction of important habitat.”

Lukas Snelling, Energize Vermont Director of Communication stated, “We support CVPS’s effort to augment their power portfolio with renewable resources. However we feel strongly they should actively seek projects with limited environmental impact, unlike the Deerfield project. This project was not designed with active input from stakeholders, and it shows.” Energize Vermont believes that many of the impacts highlighted by the Deerfield Wind project can be avoided with “Vermont-scale” energy development, which includes responsible siting, scaling, natural resources stewardship and community involvement.

Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long term stewardship of our communities.