Still fighting a project approved by voters and endorsed by Vermont’s governor, a group opposed to a wind project in Lowell took their case to the capitol Thursday, staging a Statehouse rally and calling on Gov. Peter Shumlin to rethink his support.
But while they were headed to Montpelier, Shumlin was in Lowell, touring the mountain ridge where Green Mountain Power Corp. and Vermont Electric Co-op plan a $150 million project consisting of 20 or 21 turbines more than 400 feet tall.
About 100 people – including neighbors of the site, students from Sterling College, representatives of Eden Dog Sledding and a group called Energize Vermont – denounced the Kingdom Community Wind project as bad news for the environment and neighbors and not worth what they called the small amount of power it will produce.
The project’s developers say it could generate enough electricity to power 20,000 households, and they have promised $400,000 a year in payments to Lowell, which town officials say would result in tax relief for residents.
The town voted overwhelmingly last year to approve the project, though it still needs approval from Vermont utility regulators. The state Public Service Board is wrapping up 12 days of hearings on the project this week.
Opponents were dealt a blow two weeks ago, when Shumlin – a Democrat who took office last month – announced his support for the project, which had been opposed by the administration of his predecessor, Republican Gov. Jim Douglas.
“The Lowell vote was not a vote about wind energy; it was a vote about tax relief,” said Kevin McGrath, 52, whose home abuts the site. “That’s what it was about. They took advantage of these people, and (residents) didn’t even know what they were voting on.”
Dotty Schnure, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power, rejected the assertion that Lowell voters didn’t know what they were voting on when 75 percent voted to approve the project last March.
“At public meetings, residents stated many reasons for supporting the project, including the property tax payments, payments to the state education fund, the desire for more in-state renewable energy that they will benefit from as customers of Vermont Electric Co-op (VEC), and the fact that dollars spent on local generation stay largely in Vermont and help our economy,” she said in an e-mail message.
The opponent group’s advisory – sent out Wednesday to announce Thursday’s news conference at the Statehouse – said the opponents would call on Shumlin to visit Lowell so he could see the potential impact of the project. The group notified Shumlin’s office about the event in advance as a courtesy, according to Luke Snelling, a spokesman for Energize Vermont.
Shumlin spokeswoman Sue Allen said the trip to Lowell was added to his schedule Wednesday morning.
“He decided to do it early Wednesday,” she said. “They wanted him to go, and he went.”
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