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Construction delayed for Lowell wind project  

Credit:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 1 August 2011 ~~

Green Mountain Power needs a green light from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources on several crucial permits and other matters before construction can begin on the Lowell wind project.

Without those permits and approval, GMP officials say they won’t begin construction today as they initially hoped.

The utility is waiting for stormwater control and water quality permits that would govern operations during construction and after the wind towers are erected and operating. And GMP is waiting to see if problems found last week on the ridgeline and nearby forestry lands will mean changes to its key deal with ANR.

ANR and GMP agreed in February that GMP would buy conservation easements on 900 aces of nearby land in mitigation for using the ridgeline for the wind project – a deal supported by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

That deal is subject to change now. ANR officials, on a tour with GMP on the ridgeline last week, saw that 10 trees were cut down in the area where the crane path would be located – without permission.

And they also noticed that ditches along logging roads on Moose Mountain Forestry lands nearby – where GMP is buying easements to protect wildlife for the state – may not have been dug properly based on best forestry practices. And fill had been put into part of a small wetland near a beaver pond.

A contractor doing surveying work cut the trees despite orders from GMP not to cut trees, GMP officials said. The logging work was done for Tripp Wileman, who also owns the ridgeline where the turbines will be located. He stopped work on the land to be conserved immediately once the problems were identified.

ANR lawyer Jon Groveman said this week that ANR is still sorting out what was found on the forestry lands and the tree cutting.

He said it would have an impact on the terms of the easement deal with ANR, but he didn’t know the extent of the impact.

Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for GMP, said the utility is waiting for word from ANR “about the repercussions.”

And the state regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board had given the towns of Albany and Craftsbury until Friday to comment on the problems found by ANR. The towns said in a July 25 letter to the board that the problems could mean that GMP would need to file a new mitigation plan – and they want a chance to comment on it.

The board withheld its ruling on the high-elevation wetlands mitigation plan, which GMP needs to begin construction.

GMP has operated for months on the hope of putting shovels in the ground on Aug. 1 to begin construction of the crane path, access roads, turbine sites and other features of its proposed 21-turbine wind project worth $150 million.

That’s because GMP wants to have those turbines spinning in time to qualify for federal production tax credits worth millions but which expire at the end of 2012.

The state regulators on the Public Service Board, in moving the project through the hearings earlier this year, indicated that they wanted to assist GMP in meeting that goal.

But construction cannot begin without these key permits, and not without ANR’s decision on what if any compensation or mitigation GMP must do to make up for the problems found.

ANR staff held multiple hearings about GMP’s Lowell wind project, which must comply with the federal Clean Water Act and Vermont water quality standards.

“It will take as long as it takes,” Groveman said.

“We’re especially eager to begin construction on the project because it’s really important for the region in terms of jobs and renewable energy for our customers and VEC members,” Schnure said. “But obviously the ANR needs to complete its assessment before it issues permits.”

“Aug. 1 was our target, not our drop-dead date,” she said.

Construction can start later in August without hurting the project schedule, she said.

GMP cleared one hurdle this past week when members of Vermont Electric Cooperative voted to approval a power line upgrade that would also carry electricity from the Lowell wind project to the grid.

The Public Service Board put a slew of conditions on the certificate of public good for the wind project.

Some do not have to be met until later in the year – allowing GMP to begin work once the ANR permits are filed and the ANR investigation is complete.

GMP filed a series of documents with the board this week, ranging from an amended blasting plan to letters of support from the select boards in Jay, Westfield and Lowell for use of property as part of the construction phase.

Meetings about the blasting schedule and plans with abutting landowners and area residents are scheduled for Aug. 4 and Aug. 18, both at 6 p.m. in the Lowell fire station.

Other documents include updated plans for things like monitoring invasive species, post construction revegetation plans, decommissioning, the transportation plan, and noise monitoring.

There are outstanding issues with the noise-monitoring plan, but the Public Service Board said that GMP doesn’t need it in place to begin construction. The parties have time to react to an updated plan, the board said.

The board approved the transportation and site access plans and a winter operation protocol, among other outstanding conditions.

The Lowell Mountain Group, a group of residents opposing the project, challenged the decommissioning plan valued at a total of $6 million filed by GMP.

GMP would secure a letter of credit worth $1 million before beginning construction, the board notes in its recent ruling. The remainder would be secured by May 2012.

The board requires modifications to the decommissioning plan language but gave it conditional approval.

Source:  Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, orleanscountyrecord.com 1 August 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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