Vermont’s Governor and legislature are supporting utility-scale wind energy as a solution to our energy woes, despite the fact that the proposed projects will significantly and negatively affect the State’s surface and groundwater supplies.
Utility scale wind generators appear from the distance like toy pinwheels, like a whimsical straw with a plastic turning blade. This comparison is far from reality. Wind turbines are large steel, aluminum and composite structures 400-450+ feet in height, have rotor diameters of 300 feet and weigh upwards of 1 million pounds. Anchoring these towers requires hundreds of thousands of pounds of concrete and steel, and drilling anchors deep into the mountains’ rock and groundwater.
How do the “pinwheels” get to the tops of these mountains? They are too heavy for helicopters. Roads that are 60 to as much as 150 feet wide must be constructed through forests and high elevation areas. Building these roads requires blasting, grading, and compacting the rock and soil.
The Lowell Mountains project in the north and Searsburg/Readsboro project in the south will both require the construction of at least 5 miles of new roads into previously contiguous forest habitat. During construction, traffic will include blasting rigs, cranes, excavators, dump trucks, and concrete trucks, with trips numbering in the thousands.
The construction of these roads will have significant and irreversible impacts on the sources of drinking water that many Vermonters rely on.
Most Vermonters receive their drinking water from groundwater wells that tap aquifers that rely on our mountains. Vermont’s peaks and ridges are not knife edge rock – they are wide, undulating and vegetated sponges. Walk along our state’s high mountain areas, and you will notice that rain water is often captured by the alpine wetlands and soils, where it is held and slowly released over time. Even during relatively heavy rainfalls, runoff does not run over the land, but infiltrates to small, shallow reservoirs in the bedrock.
Our state’s geology is made up of many layers that often lie perpendicular to today’s surface. These layers provide a vast vertical network of routes that recharges our Vermont’s groundwater resources. The high quality cool headwaters ensure clean drinking water and maintenance of the state’s high quality streams. In fact, the State of Vermont has recognized the value of these high elevation streams by requiring they be protected to the maximum extent.
Unfortunately, Vermont’s regulatory bodies – both the Public Service Board and the Agency of Natural Resources – have made it clear that they feel they have been given a directive by past legislatures and the current Governor to push in-state renewable electricity development and a diversified energy portfolio. As a result, they seem to always finds energy needs overriding environmental impacts, including water supply issues. This culture will undermine over 40 years of responsible land and environmental management that has maintained Vermont’s clean water, both for residents to drink and for eco- and recreation tourists to enjoy.
The construction of access and crane roads, and turbine pads as described above will cause permanent damage to water resources. The miles of roads and dozens of turbine pads will convert high quality, water bearing and filtering natural humus, soil and rock to impervious surfaces that encourage sediment laden runoff. Flooding and erosion, pollution of source waters, and significantly and permanently altered drainage patterns will be the result.
To make matters worse, the developers of these projects are submitting plans that will do little to respect or protect water resources, and in some cases show a callous regard for the resource. Technical reviewers of the plans submitted for both Lowell and Deerfield say they reveal grading with complete disregard for natural drainage patterns, installation of drainage pipes that will act as fire hoses scouring soil, and interception and disruption of underlying shallow groundwater flows.
For a state with intact cool and clean water sources and supply, utility scale wind energy on mountaintops in the “Green Mountain State”, both individually and as a whole will impact our water forever and for the worse. Tell the Governor and legislators “don’t trade our water for wind!”
Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.