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Lowell Mountain would become state’s largest wind energy development

(Host) The Public Service Board opened hearings Thursday on Green Mountain Power’s plans to harness the wind that blows over a mountain ridge in the Northeast Kingdom.

GMP officials took the stand and outlined the project. They argued it will provide an environmentally friendly source of electricity, and that the project will benefit ratepayers and its major shareholder.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) If built, the 21 turbines planned for Lowell Mountain would become the state’s largest wind energy development.

The Public Service Board hearings will cover questions of cost, as well as the impact of the development on neighbors and the mountain habitat.

CEO Mary Powell says the over-arching goal of the Lowell project is to provide a renewable energy source for customers.

(Powell) “So much of what informed our thinking on this was because we didn’t want to sort of fall into the traditional thinking of it’s either high prices and green, or lower cost and dirtier. We really challenged ourselves to come up with a strategy where we can move to a clean, green, but cost-effective energy future for our customers.”

(Dillon) Powell said it’s better for GMP to own the project rather than buy wind power from other developers. She compared it to owning your own home rather than paying a landlord.

(Powell) “In essence once the initial capital cost is paid off the energy goes to customers at the actual cost of maintaining and operating those plants.”

(Dillon) Powell also told the Public Service Board that the project will also benefit its main shareholder, the Canadian company GazMet.

The Lowell project has stirred controversy and opposition in the Northeast Kingdom. GMP has promised to pay Lowell about half a million dollars a year. It’s also committed to paying much lesser amounts to several surrounding towns.

Powell says she hopes communities eventually see other benefits as well.

(Powell) “It’s my dream, it’s my hope, it’s my aspiration that there will be a day that actually people in the Northeast Kingdom with great pride and know that they are contributing to you know a reduction to significant carbon.”

(Dillon) But judging from the crowd in the hearing room opponents are not mollified. Among other issues, they’re concerned about noise from the turbines, damage to wildlife habitat and the impact on property values.

Pat O’Neill drove down from Westfield. She says conservation groups previously identified the Lowell mountain range as an important region for wildlife.

(O’Neill) And where this project is proposed is one of six critical linkage areas for habitat in a huge swath of the Northeast, including all of the New England states, upper New York state… all the way out to the Gaspe Pennisula. And to say, ‘Well, you know it really isn’t going to make any difference,’ or “There’s plenty of other space there,’ seems a little cavalier.”

(Dillon) Opponents will get their turn later before the PSB. But O’Neill doesn’t believe the process is fair. She said GMP worked on its application for many months, but local citizen groups and neighboring property owners faced a quick three-week deadline to prepare testimony and witnesses.

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