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Chittenden County wind project approved

Owners of a proposed four-turbine commercial wind project on a Milton-Georgia ridgetop have cleared their last regulatory hurdle, and road construction could begin as early as this fall, they said Thursday.

At the same time, Georgia Mountain Community Wind is negotiating to sell the project to the Burlington Electric Department. BED has agreed to buy the power that would be generated by the four 2.75-megawatt turbines.

“We’re looking at whether we can build it less expensively than they can because we are a municipal utility,” said Ken Nolan, manager of power resources at BED. “We have access to low-cost financing; we have power generation folks on our staff so we could reduce overhead. It’s an economic decision.”

Georgia Mountain Community Wind is a project of the Harrison family of Georgia, owners of Harrison Concrete Construction.

The turbines won general approval from the Public Service Board a year ago, but the board left open the question of how far back they must be sited from property lines.

In an order Tuesday the board rejected arguments by opponents and the state that the turbines should be no closer than 490 feet to the nearest property line. The board said a setback of 180 feet was sufficient for public health and safety.

A 490-foot setback might have killed the project, said Martha Staskus of Northeast Wind, a consultant working for the Harrisons.

“It would have required relocating the turbines, taking them off the ridge and reducing energy production,” she said. “The project might not have made sense.”

Opponents argued that the smaller setback would leave neighboring properties at risk if the turbines collapsed or ice was thrown from the turning blades.

Each turbine will rise 443 feet in the air, measured to the top of a turning blade.

The state Department of Public Service, which represents the public in cases in front of the board, argued that the board should adopt a standard setback of 1.1 times the height of the turbine. The Public Service Board rejected that proposal.

Heidi FitzGerald of Fletcher intervened in the case with her mother, Jane, who owns property bordering the proposed wind project.

“The board is setting a very bad precedent,” she said. “There’s a lot of recreation up there, ATV trails, people hiking, people hunting. It makes our land pretty much unusable” to have wind towers so near, she said.

The board was convinced by the developers’ analysis that little chance exists that the turbines will collapse or throw off dangerous ice if protocols are followed to shut them down during icing conditions. The Public Service Board order says Georgia Wind must establish those winter operating protocols and submit them for approval.

“It’s a large hurdle cleared,” Jim Harrison said Thursday. “We are feeling much better about our project.”

Melodie McLane of Georgia, another party in the case, said opponents are not giving up.

“By no means,” she said. “We are regrouping to decide what to do.”