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Local groups step up fight against wind projects

(Host) Citizen groups from around the state gathered in Montpelier on Wednesday to voice concern about large-scale wind energy projects planned for Vermont’s ridgelines.

The groups said that the intermittent electricity produced by these projects doesn’t justify the possible health effects or the environmental damage to the state’s mountains.

But as VPR’s John Dillon reports, their opposition shows a continuing split among environmentalists over wind energy.

(Dillon) It was more like a pep rally than a press conference. The 70 or so people gathered at the Statehouse represented grassroots groups and citizen activists from all corners of the state. They cheered as speakers said the utility scale wind projects – with turbines 400 feet high – are not the solution to Vermont’s energy needs.

Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which organized the event. She wants the coming administration of Governor-elect Peter Shumlin to re-think its support for wind energy.

(Smith) “We have not had the statewide conversation that we must have now in order to not make the wrong choices and to make the right choices for Vermont.” (applause)

At least a half dozen wind developments are planned for Vermont’s ridgelines. A Massachusetts company broke ground this fall on a large wind project in Sheffield in the Northeast Kingdom. The Public Service Board has approved projects for Deerfield and Milton. The state’s largest wind development to date – up to 24 turbines – is planned for a pristine ridgeline in nearby Lowell. And other projects are contemplated for Rutland County and Waitsfield in the Mad River Valley.

Smith said health researchers are focusing on the noise generated by wind turbines. And she said the projects will fragment wildlife habitat and damage mountain ridgelines.

(Smith) There are impacts on wetlands, stormwater, run off and erosion. These projects involve excavating and blasting and really changing the entire topography of the mountains.

(Dillon) But despite the show of force at the Statehouse, Vermont’s environmental community is divided on wind development. Three of the state’s mainstream environmental organizations released a statement last month saying utility-scale wind needs to be a part of the state’s energy mix.

James Moore is the energy policy specialist with the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. VPIRG supports wind development to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

(Moore) If Vermonters were to switch over to clean electricity produced by a wind farm and were able to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, I think a lot of folks would look at that as a win-win situation.

(Dillon) But Ben Luce, who teaches physics at Lyndon State College, says wind advocates like VPIRG are wildly optimistic. Luce worked on clean energy projects in New Mexico. But he says the inconvenient truth is that Vermont and New England lack a robust and reliable wind resource. He says even if all the possible sites were developed in the Northeast, national greenhouse gas production would be cut by just 1 to 2 percent.

(Luce) The resource is actually very small and the impacts of developing it at the same time would be very great to the state.

(Dillon) Luce says solar power represents a much more benign alternative to meeting Vermont’s renewable energy needs.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.