Professor Ben Luce and environmental activist Annette Smith laid out reasons why wind power may not be right for Vermont and detailed the permitting process – including its lack of citizen/local participation – to a full house at the Skinner Barn in Waitsfield last week.
The September 22 event, hosted by Friends of the Northfield Ridge, drew close to 200 people. It opened with Professor Ben Luce discussing his background, including the fact that he had previously been a wind power advocate and has worked in New Mexico for solar energy and was also involved in lobbying for wind energy credits in that state. Luce, who is now teaching physics and sustainability studies at Lyndon State College, acknowledged the imperative of reducing carbon emissions but noted that the solutions need to be regionally appropriate as well as viable in the long and short terms.
With a PowerPoint presentation and large colorful maps, he juxtaposed Vermont’s potential wind production with that of other states. Among the data he presented was a relative wind ranking by state that assigned values based on potential production capacity. Texas, for example, has a capacity of 1,901 gigawatts annually. Kansas has a capacity of 952; Montana, 944; Nebraska, 918; and Iowa, 570 gigawatts.
Vermont, by comparison, has a 2.9-gigawatt capacity. The New England state with the highest capacity is Maine at 11.3 and much of that capacity is due to the coastlines. The country’s richest wind resource areas, he said, are its coastal areas and the Central Plains states.
Luce said that Vermont is a wind-poor state compared to other parts of the country and explained that the only location for wind in Vermont is on ridgelines. Vermont’s raw solar resources, he said, outweigh the state’s wind potential by a factor of 620 times.
He showed slides of the impact of wind development on ridgelines, talking about the environmental impact as well as the subsequent unintended consequences for nearby inhabitants. Luce continued with a series of slides showing how Vermont visitors ranked the state using key words. That research showed that the words most often associated with Vermont and the Vermont “brand” are “beautiful, unspoiled mountains,” something that commercial wind farming along the state’s ridgelines would ruin, he said.
Luce provided information about the health impacts for people and migratory birds (including migrating raptors) who live near transmission lines. He discussed new research about sub-audible noises (infra-sonic) that nonetheless are felt by the human ear and are linked to ill health. That area of research, he said, is very new, citing a study by Alec Salt and Timothy Hullar that was published in
The solution for Vermont, Luce concluded, lies in better conservation and solar. He explained that the per kilowatt cost of solar production in Vermont had dropped from almost $5 per kilowatt hour in 1978 to under 20 cents today and was expected to continue to drop to less than 5 cents per hour by 2020.
CENTRALIZED VS. DISTRIBUTED
Wind power represented a centralized power generation system while solar represents a widely distributed power generation system – one less easily controlled by large corporate interests operating on the profit principle. He explained Vermont’s permitting process in a nutshell and was followed by Annette Smith who explained the permitting process in greater details.
Smith told the crowd about how the Vermont Public Service review process works, including the PSB’s ability to include or exclude groups that would normally have party status under Act 250, Vermont’s land use review law.
Smith provided maps showing where wind projects in Vermont are approved, under review and/or proposed and also detailed how local communities would be impacted. Currently, there are three approved projects in Vermont. Those include five turbines in Georgia and Milton, 16 turbines in Sheffield/Sutton and two turbines in Deerfield/Searsburg. Wind measuring devices (MET towers used by companies to determine if the wind is sufficient) have been approved in Eden. MET towers are up in Lowell/Albany where up to 21 turbines are proposed and PSB hearings are ongoing (see related story Page 7). In Londonderry, landowners are currently being courted by a company that wants to install two turbines. In Manchester/Sutherland, a MET tower is up and a company is seeking financing for a three-turbine project.
In Ira/Poultney/West Rutland, there is MET tower up for a 32- to 42-turbine project that is now on hold. Smith said it is likely there will be a proposal filed for a 50MW wind farm in Castleton/Hubbardton/Pittsford/West Rutland in 2010, and she mentioned the fact that Citizens Wind is interested in creating a 15- to 24-turbine wind farm along the Northfield Ridge in Waitsfield, Warren and Moretown.
Smith also discussed the health and environmental impacts of wind turbines on the ridges and gave detailed information about how the size and production capacity of wind turbines had increased over the past decade exacerbating those impacts.
Both presenters were peppered with questions by those in attendance. Many people asked questions about how to change the process and were told it had to be changed through the Vermont Legislature so that local voices and ordinances had to be included in the review process. Currently, the PSB is required to consider what a Town Plan says but is not mandated to adhere to it or a town’s zoning ordinance. Several people used the opportunity to speak out against wind turbines in general and several people spoke out in favor of wind energy. One speaker suggested it was elitist for those present to imagine that all of Vermonters could afford to put solar panels on their roofs and do their part to reduce the state’s carbon footprint.
Last week’s meeting was the first of several presentations that Friends of the Northfield Ridge will hold on the topic of wind, alternative energy and Citizens Wind’s interest in the Mad River Valley.