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Vermont utilities agree to buy wind power from New Hampshire

MONTPELIER, Vt. – Vermont’s two largest electric utilities say they’ve signed contracts to buy power from a wind-power project in northern New Hampshire even as the debate over in-state wind projects rages.

Rutland-based Central Vermont Public Service Corp. and Colchester-based Green Mountain Power Corp. will take more than 80 percent of the power to be produced by the Granite Reliable Power Windpark in Coos County, N.H. Prices for the power have not been disclosed.

“Vermonters have clearly stated their desire for clean, low-emission, renewable energy if it can be obtained at an affordable cost, and this contract meets all of those criteria,” CVPS President Bob Young and GMP President Mary Powell said in a joint statement.

Both companies had previously signed contracts to take power from the Granite Reliable project; in Thursday’s announcement, they said would increase those amounts so that CVPS will take 50.3 percent of the 99-megawatt project, while GMP will take 32 percent.

Vermont lawmakers have passed several bills in recent years to push the state’s power companies to rely more on renewable power, but developers have had a hard time getting such projects through a tough state permit process.

Wherever the projects have been proposed, local groups have sprung up to oppose them, supported by the statewide group Vermonters for a Clean Environment. Opponents cite damage to forests from building roads to support the projects, harm to wildlife and choking mountain streams with dirt during construction.

On Thursday, the group Energize Vermont filed a motion in the state Environmental Court asking it to order a halt to a 16-turbine wind project in Sheffield in northeastern Vermont. It said the developer, Boston-based First Wind, was violating its state environmental permit and damaging mountain streams.

First Wind denied any violation. The company has projects in Maine, and has started final construction of its $130 million Rollins Mountain wind project with hopes of having it finished by April 1, officials said last week.

“The opponents of renewable wind power have misrepresented the facts,” spokesman John Lamontagne said in a statement. “We’re building this project in a highly environmentally responsible manner, in full compliance with all laws and regulations, and that will continue as we move ahead with the project.”

Gov. Jim Douglas has opposed what he calls “industrial-scale” wind power projects on Vermont’s mountain ridges, saying they would harm the state’s scenic beauty.

Douglas is stepping down after four two-year terms and both major candidates seeking to replace him, Democrat Peter Shumlin and Republican Brian Dubie, are more sympathetic to wind power development.

The push for renewable power comes as Vermont Yankee – the state’s lone nuclear power plant – is scheduled to see its federal and state operating licenses expire in March 2012. The plant, currently a source of about one-third of the electricity used in Vermont, is seeking a license renewal, but lawmakers voted last winter to reject that.

Leaders of four environmental groups gathered Thursday to encourage development of more large-scale wind farms in Vermont.

The Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, Vermont Natural Resources Council and Vermont Public Interest Research Group extolled the virtues of wind energy as a source of power that does not contribute to climate change.

Meanwhile, Vermonters for a Clean Environment said large-scale wind is just more corporate energy, and small homegrown solar projects are the way to go.