Wind energy has been pitched as the answer to Vermont’s renewable energy needs as Vermont Yankee is retired. Five years ago, 90 percent of Vermonters, including me, supported wind development on mountaintops.
I no longer support utility-scale ridgeline wind turbines in Vermont; nor do many Vermonters who live around the mountains where wind prospectors are pursuing projects.
In 2005, when large wind turbines were relatively small, legislation passed requiring Vermont utilities to add renewables to their portfolios. Now, proposed wind turbines are 450 feet tall. These are huge industrial machines.
Constructing and maintaining these big machines requires building permanent roads, moving tons of aggregate, concrete and rebar – thousands of truckloads to environmentally-sensitive ridgelines. First Wind is blasting five miles of new roads for 420 foot tall turbines on a mountain in Sheffield. Iberdrola wants to build 410 foot tall wind turbines in the Green Mountain National Forest.
These enormous machines proposed by very large corporations create complex issues that regulators, towns and neighbors of projects have to grapple with at great expense.
Wind development divides communities. Lowell residents are in the throes of negativity, anger and hostility that come from the promise of corporate dollars at the expense of neighbors whose property values and investments are threatened, without compensation.
Environmental impacts are extensive.
Most Vermonters are unaware of the problems with wind energy development, because they have no reason to investigate the details. But when a wind project comes to town, the people who live around the mountain do their homework. Many do not like what they learn, or the way it is being done. Informed voters in Londonderry, Barton, Sutton, Manchester, and Ira voted against big wind turbines after becoming educated. For example:
- Sheffield: Protecting aquatic life in high elevation trout streams requires a pre-construction analysis to establish the streams’ baseline status. The turbidity standard should be 10 n.t.u., and the applicant should be required to monitor pH and temperature. Agency of Natural Resources’ (ANR) construction stormwater permit requires no baseline monitoring, applies a 25 n.t.u. turbidity standard averaged over a year, with no requirement to monitor pH or temperature. ANR’s permit is not protective of aquatic life.
- Searsburg and Readsboro: Spanish utility Iberdrola is proposing turbines more than twice as tall as existing turbines. ANR biologists oppose the impact on critical bear habitat. Iberdrola’s plan involves gating and posting public lands, within two miles of the George Aiken Wilderness Area.
- Georgia Mountain: Developers want to build 450 foot tall turbines 150 feet from neighboring property lines.
- Lowell: ANR biologists concerned about habitat fragmentation recommend a permanent easement on the project site but the landowner has not agreed.
Large turbines cause problems for airspace around mountains. Turbines proposed for Clarendon increased hazards to the Southern Vermont Airport’s approaches. In Warren it’s gliders and around Grandpa’s Knob it’s hang gliders. Ridge-top turbines create “the highest bat collision mortality levels among wind facilities in the nation,” according to ANR.
Finally, there is the noise. People who are expected to live near big wind turbines learn that noise causes some people to flee their homes, as is happening all over the world. The unique noise created by turbines causes sleeplessness, even more than two miles away. Wind developers deny any causal connection and are not responsive to complaints. Regulators are not establishing noise limits that protect public health.
Evidence that Vermont wind turbines will significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions or provide meaningful replacement power is lacking. Don’t shoot the messenger, but we do not have enough of a resource, and it is all way high up on our unspoiled beautiful mountains that are providing important environmental and economic functions.
Big wind turbines are not appropriate for Vermont’s mountains. Solar works. It is our largest renewable resource. The price is coming down, the locations are accessible and available. We do have meaningful solutions that can bring people together rather than divide our communities.
Annette Smith is the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
[Note: This opinion piece also appeared in slightly different form in the Brattleboro Reformer, Jan. 27.]
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