Construction has started on a 16-turbine wind energy project in Sheffield, the first such project to be built in Vermont since the state’s only operating commercial wind farm was built in Searsburg 13 years ago.
Vermont Wind, a subsidiary of Boston-based First Wind, has begun clearing trees and building roads to the project site on Granby Mountain and Libby Hill.
First Wind spokesman John Lamontagne said he is not sure whether construction will start on the turbines this fall, or next spring. He said the company expects the wind farm to begin producing electricity next year.
According to the company’s website, the Sheffield project would produce 115,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year, which the company says is enough to power all the homes in Caledonia County.
The start of construction generated both praise and disappointment, echoing the sparring that went on during the roughly six years the project was in the works. Once the turbines are installed in Sheffield, First Wind will pay the 700-person town $520,000 a year.
“My reaction is sad, disgust and anger,” said Rob Pforzheimer of Sutton, who said he lives about four miles from the wind farm. “I don’t think industrialization is suitable for the tops of mountains in Vermont.”
On the other side of debate is John Simons, 83, of Sheffield. “I’m delighted. We waited over six years,” he said.
Simons said he considers the wind farm safer than other forms of electrical generation, such as nuclear energy.
“Nuclear power scares me to death,” he said. “Someday, something in the nuclear line is going to go bang.”
Movement on wind turbine projects around Vermont has been glacial since the first facility was finished in 1997. Now, that’s started to change:
Ö In March, residents in Lowell voted to approve Green Mountain Power’s proposal for up to 24 wind turbines there.
Ö In June, developers of a three- to five-turbine commercial-scale wind project on the Georgia-Milton town line – the first project of its kind in Chittenden County – received a certificate of public good from the state Public Service Board.
Ö Additional turbines near the Searsburg site have won approval by the Public Service Board, but have not been built.
Wind farm opponents’ objections include the sight and sound of the turbines on the mountaintop.
Simons said as circumstances change, you can’t expect everything else to remain the same, and so it goes with the wind turbines on Granby Mountain.
“You can’t really say you’re changing Vermont because Vermont is going to change anyway,” Simons said.
Pforzheimer counters the changes coming to Sheffield are too great, especially for the environment. He says there are many wetlands in the area.
“Five streams and their tributaries feed into the Passumpsic and Willoughby rivers. There’s a habitat of hundreds of beech trees for bears,” he said.
Vermont Environmental Court Judge Merideth Wright ruled in late August that the wind energy project was entitled to the final permits it needed for construction. The construction started in late September.
Pforzheimer said opponents have asked Wright to reconsider the decision, and are considering appealing to the Vermont Supreme Court.
Lamontagne said he could not speculate on what effects future court challenges, if they develop, would have on construction.
He said once the land was cleared and roads were built to the site, turbine parts would be brought to the site and assembled. After the turbines are tested to ensure they work properly, the wind farm would be brought online to add power to the electrical grid, he said.
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