Vermonters living near mountains proposed for big wind turbines, and people who care about the natural resources, scenic and economic benefits of Vermont’s unspoiled beautiful mountains are dealing with one of the most surreal situations citizens of this state have ever faced.
Without clear and convincing evidence that meaningful positives will result from building 450-plus foot tall machines on top of mountains, wind believers expect the people who live near their beloved mountains to sacrifice their business interests that rely on tourism and the peaceful enjoyment of their properties to “save the planet.”
Wind project neighbors are called NIMBYs. If they want to participate in the permitting process they are given the opportunity to hire and pay for expensive lawyers and experts and devote hundreds of unpaid hours for more than a year to a process that ignores their input.
The final insult to the enormous injury these fine Vermonters are enduring is watching the destruction of extraordinary, sacred places where generations have hunted, fished, hiked and enjoyed.
People from all walks of life – natives and newcomers, rich and poor, conservatives and liberals – have researched the well-documented problems associated with giant wind machines, and how those problems are worse in mountainous terrain: more money, explosives, diesel fuel and emissions, crushed rock, culverts, miles of new roads, destruction of more special natural areas, wildlife, geology and hydrology.
Yet, the people most impacted are scorned, ridiculed and dismissed. Rarely has a population been so disempowered and ignored by their elected officials.
From Sens. Bernie Sanders and Patrick Leahy, Congressman Peter Welch on the federal level to Gov. Peter Shumlin and his appointees and key legislators on the state level, nobody is willing to listen. The door has been slammed shut in a way I have never seen in my 12 years working with Vermont citizens who are dealing with environmental issues in their communities.
Senator Sanders helped First Wind circumvent US Fish & Wildlife Service staff concerns about impacts to water resources. Governor Shumlin helped Green Mountain Power overcome ANR staff concerns about natural resource impacts in Lowell. The Public Service Board ignored recommendations by the Department of Public Service to establish setbacks protective of public safety. Rep. Tony Klein refused to give even one hearing to legislation addressing appropriate setbacks for public health and safety.
This combination of power against the people is unusual in a state that prides itself on open government and giving fair hearing to people who have legitimate concerns.
What is happening to Vermonters who live near these wind energy projects brings out feelings of grief. The loss that people are experiencing, even before the projects are built, is palpable and deeply painful, magnified by the disdain to which they have been treated by the people who hold all the power.
Vermonters forced through accident of location learn about what is involved in wind machine development and operation on ridgelines: destruction of critical wildlife habitat, the guaranteed death of birds and bats, displacement of bears and demolition of their food sources, rearrangement of the hydrology of the mountains, devaluation of properties, investments and businesses, and the high likelihood that some people will no longer be able to live in their homes because of noise.
Shumlin’s stock response to concerns about ridgeline wind development is that people in his area have sacrificed for years because of Vermont Yankee and now it is time for others to sacrifice. The governor refuses to listen to the people most impacted. Vermonters deserve better than pronouncements at press conferences about pushing the sacrifice around. We need planning and a thoughtful discussion of solutions.
Must we abandon compassion and honest dialogue to create new forms of energy? Will Sanders and Leahy, Welch, Shumlin and Klein accept this public invitation to sit down with the neighbors of mountains targeted for wind development and listen? Or is our democracy so far removed from the people and so dependent on money that our citizens no longer have a voice?