Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, dressed as a brown bat, made her way around a conference room distributing leaflets warning those in attendance of the dire consequences utility-scale wind projects have on the bat population.
The silent protest took place during a recent open house sponsored by Green Mountain National Forest officials at the Howe Center in Rutland.
Officials were seeking input on a supplemental draft environmental impact statement released by the U.S. Forest Service assessing the impact of a 30-megawatt wind farm being considered for public lands in Readsboro and Searsburg.
The project was proposed by Deerfield Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, a large wind power company based in Spain.
The state Public Service Board has issued a Certificate of Public Good with conditions for the project. However, because it would be located in the national forest, Deerfield Wind must also obtain Forest Service approval.
Amid project maps, visual displays and an array of paperwork, approximately 20 people shared their views about what would be the first utility-scale wind energy project installed on national forest land anywhere in the country.
Some spoke directly to forest service officials, while others provided written comments.
Concerns ranged from threats to the migratory and regional bat and bird population and interference with black bear habitats to aesthetic impacts on ridgelines in two communities and whether the energy generated by the project would outweigh adverse.
Dennis Liddy of Westfield characterized large scale wind projects such as the one being proposed as “total failures” from an efficiency standard. He said federal funds being used as incentives for such projects ought to be halted.
“Somebody’s got to stand up and say ‘enough is enough’ and I hope the National Forest Service is willing to stand up and say ‘don’t destroy the ridgelines for corporate greed,’” Liddy explained.
Kathy Hepburn-Halford of Tinmouth said the project could adversely affect head waters and wildlife habitats, and, she said, citizens would most likely be prohibited from using the public land associated with the project.
“This power is tiny, fickle, can’t be stored and is almost never there when you need it. This makes the project not worth the destruction,” she said. “It’s ill-conceived when you consider American people wanted the land set aside for future generations and it’s being industrialized.”
A Sunderland resident, Frank Thompson, had another view of large scale wind projects. “If Vermont needs wind towers, they should put them in ski areas – they’re high elevations, there’s plenty of wind and there’s less impact on wildlife and the areas have already been disturbed,” he said.
As for the project being proposed for southern Vermont, Thompson said, “It makes no difference to me, but I don’t live there.” He said the “thoughts and concerns of the local population should carry a lot of weight.”
Mary Krueger, forest policy analyst with the Wilderness Society, said the group was concerned about the potential impacts to bear habitats as well as threats to bird and bat populations.
“This would be the very first project of its kind in the country. The Forest Service has no rules on how this should be done and there are no guidelines, and that’s a concern as well,” Krueger said.
Colleen Madrid, forest supervisor for the Green Mountain and Finder Lakes National Forests, will make the final decision on the project. That decision is expected to be announced this summer.
Madrid was at the open house and listened to residents’ comments throughout a two-hour period. She said “energy development was an accepted use” in the national forest.
Madrid stressed no decision regarding the proposed project had been made and residents have until March 4 to submit comments. Several options were being considered, including the original proposal of 17 wind turbines to be sited on ridgelines east and west of Route 8 in Searsburg and Readsboro as well as a “no action” option should the Forest Service reject the project. Another alternative includes 15 wind turbines on both sides of Route 8 and a separate option for seven turbines east of Route 8.
The Deerfield Wind project would be adjacent to an existing Searsburg facility operated by Green Mountain Power on private land.
Residents may submit comments by conventional mail to Bob Bayer, project coordinator, USDA Forest Service, 2538 Depot St., Manchester Center, VT 05255. or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. The subject line should read Deerfield Wind SDEIS Comments.
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