As proposals for wind turbine projects move through the permitting process and proliferate in Vermont, state and local leaders should acknowledge – and plan for the fact – that this form of power generation can have only a limited role in a mountainous region.
The problems in a state like Vermont, unlike a Nebraska or Oklahoma, or any region along the east or west coasts that could use off-shore turbines, include the visual impact of large windmill towers on mountaintops, the effects on birds and other wildlife, and of noise on any nearby residences.
Eliminate those issues, as is possible in the Great Plains or in any flat, sparsely settled region of the country, or with off-shore sites, and wind makes more sense. It can then become competitive with fossil fuel or nuclear plant power generation. The economies of scale alone – as in a huge field of turbines – make wind attractive in some states. But that can never happen here, given our topography.
This isn’t to argue against wind power in general, as small-scale facilities, such as on farms or resorts, could provide a limited but meaningful level of power. This form of generation would, however, benefit from the development of smaller, minimally prominent turbines for individual properties, capable of being hidden among treelines or on ski-lift towers, silos, roofs or other common structures.
Because of the limitations on wind power in our state and region,
state legislation and regional and local zoning regulation, where applicable, should be under constant review to ensure only those projects that fit into our topography and environment are permitted.
There may be large-scale sites as well as resort, farm or homeowner locations that are ideal, but there can’t be many of the former and this has to guide our permitting guidelines.
Other alternative energy sources, such as solar arrays and small-scale hydro generation, along with power obtained through Hydro-Quebec or similar sources, should be Vermont’s focus as the state considers options for replacing the electricity generated at the aging Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
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