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Rethinking Lowell Mountain  

Credit:  Greg LeRoy, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 27 March 2011 ~~

Consideration of the Lowell Mountain wind project repre­sents a watershed moment in Vermont. Pro­ponents and opponents of this project need to under­stand that the decisions made here will have impli­cations for generations – not just in Lowell or the Northeast Kingdom, but for the entire state. For these reasons, I urge everyone to carefully consider this pro­posal and all of its ramifica­tions.

Vermont has been a leader in environmental protection and this is a source of rightful pride. Few would argue that it is fully appropriate to include the potential contributions of renewable energy to meet our present and future needs. It is clear that our energy portfolio will need to contain a mix of various power generation technologies. A combination of individual, local and large-scale methods may also be necessary. What we lack is a comprehensive energy plan to guide our decision-making. Considering power generation projects on an individual basis is inadequate and can have undesirable consequences.

Lowell Mountain has been packaged as an environmentally responsible wind energy project being developed by a Vermont company (Green Mountain Power). The support of the Lowell voters and the mitigation of the environmental and ecosystem damage are emphasized. Let’s look beyond the PR to the realities.

First, GMP is owned by a subsidiary of a Canadian energy company. Second, given the prospect of GMP paying the town an estimated $400,000 a year in property taxes, it’s not surprising that 75 percent of Lowell’s voters were in favor of this project. The prospect of this revenue and decreased property taxes was a strong financial incentive. Third, the proposed turbines would actually not be within view of many Lowell residents, and other towns like Craftsbury would experience aesthetic and economic impacts. The interests of such towns, and of all state residents, are inadequately considered in this politicized review process.

Legal representation and the presentation of experts at the Public Service Board hearings are expensive. This created an inequitable process in which the financial resources of the proponents far outweigh those of the opponents. Then there’s the influence of Gov. Shumlin, the ironic support of the Agency of Natural Resources, and the flip-flop of the Free Press editorial position – “Take a leap of faith and ride the wind” says the editorial board (Feb. 18) – what an unfortunate trivialization.

Like many in Vermont, I support developing clean energy sources as an alternative to reliance on fossil fuels or a deficient nuclear power facility. However, I do not feel that mountaintop wind energy projects are appropriate or desirable. The sacrifices and trade-offs are just too great. The beauty of the Green Mountains is invaluable – it is essential to our experience. Once such a resource is ruined, there is no turning back. This project includes 40-story turbines emerging from undisturbed forest lands. Despite the modest amount of renewable energy that would be generated (at a cost greater than power from either Vermont Yankee or HydroQuebec), it this really what we want for our state?

A proposal to build 20 40-45 story buildings on any Vermont mountain would be rejected outright as an abomination, inconsistent with our values. How is this wind project really any different? The issue isn’t only aesthetics. There would be significant destruction of the mountain ridge and resultant environmental degradation from massive road-building and the overall construction process. Does the goal of wind energy really tip the balance toward approval of such a project? Not in my opinion.

Finally, there’s the often ignored issue of cumulative impacts. Such projects, if not eventually part of a larger network, make little economic sense and would not substantially reduce our reliance on other types of energy. Thus, if large scale wind energy is to become a viable means of meeting Vermont’s needs, many such projects would be required. Be assured that there are other wind energy project proposals just waiting for an approval of Lowell Mountain. Thus, this project needs to be viewed as only one step toward a future that would include numerous similarly obtrusive and destructive projects. Viewed in this context, approval of this project would have severe and irreversible long-term consequences. Please communicate your opinions to the Public Service Board.

Greg LeRoy lives in Hinesburg.

Source:  Greg LeRoy, www.burlingtonfreepress.com 27 March 2011

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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