CRAFTSBURY – “This is no time to take the foot off the gas pedal,” Steve Wright told a crowd of about 100 people in the Craftsbury Academy gym on Wednesday night, July 6. “Put it to the floor!”
Mr. Wright was speaking at a meeting called to discuss the Lowell wind project by the Craftsbury Conservation Commission, of which he is a member. Also on hand was Mike Nelson, who has represented the town of Albany during the permitting process before the state Public Service Board (PSB). Both Albany and Craftsbury have party status in the proceedings.
Mr. Wright said that, while the PSB has granted Green Mountain Power the certificate of public good it needs to built the project, it attached 42 conditions. Some of these, the PSB said, must be satisfied before construction begins.
Green Mountain Power has asked the PSB to relax that deadline on some of its conditions.
Mr. Wright, a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, has become an open and active opponent of the project.
“I think it’s in the best interest of the region for us to be involved in the process,” he said of the continuing arguments about the project.
“If we don’t stay involved and continue to push Green Mountain Power, our interest will not be served,” he said at another point in the meeting. “We need to continue to employ expert witnesses and lawyers.”
Delay could lead Green Mountain Power to drop the project, Mr. Wright said.
“When we began this process,” he said, “Green Mountain Power was asked, ‘Would you proceed without federal subsidies?’ The answer was unequivocally ‘No.’”
To qualify for federal investment tax credits which Mr. Wright said would run from $34-million to $44-million over ten years, the project must be producing power by the end of 2012. In its appeals to the PSB, Green Mountain Power has said it must begin construction in early August to meet that deadline.
Key environmental issues raised by the project, Mr. Wright said, include fragmentation of wildlife habitat and storm water runoff.
Mr. Nelson, an environmental health and safety consultant who lives in Albany and is the son of two of the project’s most fierce opponents, Don and Shirley Nelson, said that monitoring the noise from the turbines is “more a hot-button issue for Albany and Lowell” than for Craftsbury.
“Green Mountain Power has substituted turbines that are considerably bigger than what they had planned,” Mr. Nelson said.
After the meeting, Mr. Nelson provided a letter to the PSB from Jared Margolis, attorney for Albany and Craftsbury, arguing that the larger turbines would require an amendment to the certificate of public good, because they would push the project’s capacity beyond the 63 megawatts Green Mountain Power applied for.
The “swept area” of the bigger turbines is 55 percent larger, Mr. Margolis said, and could impact bat and bird mortality.
Mr. Nelson told the July 6 meeting that capacitors in the turbines will contain sulfur hexafluoride, an insulating gas widely used in electric equipment.
If it escapes into the atmosphere, he said, the gas has a greenhouse effect that is greater than carbon dioxide by a factor of 23,000. Because it is highly stable, he added, escaped gas remains in the atmosphere for 800 to 3,200 years.
If it burned in an accidental fire, he said, it would produce a highly poisonous gas that would be dangerous to emergency workers.
“This is a regional issue,” Mr. Wright said. “Air, water, and sound don’t obey town boundaries. You’re a testament to this tonight,” he said. “This is a regional group.”
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