LOWELL – Heavy earth-moving equipment ground across a field off Route 100 Tuesday, the official beginning of construction of the Lowell wind project called Kingdom Community Wind.
About 35 workers from Green Mountain Power and construction company J.A. McDonald of Lyndon Center plus others were at the site or up the ridge line, preparing for road construction on the ridge line.
GMP announced Tuesday morning that work had begun to prepare for the erection of 21 large wind turbines on Lowell Mountain. The project began while opponents are still appealing or challenging permits and the certificate of public good granted in May by state regulators on the Public Service Board.
If the $150-million-dollar project clears all hurdles and is completed, it would become the largest wind development in Vermont, more than the 16 turbines now on Sheffield Heights. Kingdom Community Wind would have the capacity to provide 63 megawatts of electricity, enough to serve 24,000 homes.
Vermont Electric Cooperative, a partner in the project, will buy electricity at cost. GMP will pay to upgrade local power lines and substations to carry the electricity and increase reliability, an upgrade supported in a vote by VEC members.
“We are extremely excited to start construction on this important local, renewable energy project,” said Mary Powell, Green Mountain Power president and CEO. “In addition to producing clean and reliable power for our customers and VEC members, Kingdom Community Wind is the most affordable new renewable energy available.”
GMP still has to meet a slew of conditions to get final approval, but officials said they expected those to be cleared before construction is complete.
The start of construction Tuesday was about five weeks later than GMP had desired, but the utility officials said that the turbines would be spinning by the end of December 2012. That would allow GMP to pass on the savings to its customers and to VEC members of $47 million in federal production tax credits, officials said.
The workers are focusing first on a staging area next to Route 100 for construction trailers and heavy equipment for use during the construction phase, GMP spokesman Dave Coriell said.
Other contractors were surveying the road and marking off work areas. Erection of the turbines, each 459 feet tall from base to blade tip, is expected to begin next summer.
GMP officials said that Kingdom Community Wind is the most significant renewable generation development in Vermont and it will provide a boost to the local and Vermont economy.
More than 90 different Vermont firms and vendors have participated in the project to date, with more than $4 million already invested in those companies, GMP officials said.
In the coming weeks, J.A. McDonald and Bates & Murray of Barre will add additional local employees to their existing Vermont employee base to work on Kingdom Community Wind, GMP officials said.
“This is a local energy project built by Vermonters, for Vermonters,” said Powell. “Through tax payments to the town of Lowell, the state education fund, the Good Neighbor Fund for surrounding towns and the economic activity created by the project’s construction, as well as competitively priced energy for many years to come, this project is a true win-win for all involved. We are grateful for the support we have received from the community.”
GMP will pay $7 million toward the $12 million transmission system upgrade between Lowell and Jay. VEC sought the upgrades as part of its long-term capital plan. However, with the partnership with GMP, VEC is now able to move more quickly on a more robust upgrade while limiting the costs to its members.
“Our 40-year-old transmission system between Lowell and Jay needed to be upgraded to ensure safety and reliability,” said David Hallquist, co-op CEO. “Our members have also told us that they want clean, local and affordable electricity. Our partnership with GMP on this renewable wind project will help us meet those requests in a way that keeps rates as low as possible.”
GMP received key water quality and storm-water control permits last month from Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.
GMP got the final go-ahead to begin construction last week when the Public Service Board signed off, in a 2-1 vote, on remediation work on neighboring logging land that is to be conserved in mitigation for the ridge-line sites taken up for the turbines and access road.
GMP officials say their environmental efforts will be among the most extensive for such a project in Vermont. For the first time for either wind or ski areas, there will be biological monitoring of streams during and following construction.
GMP has also voluntarily collected data about the water chemistry of streams around the project to understand and protect future water quality.
ANR officials said the monitoring program “imposed on GMP to protect high quality waters is more restrictive than any program required of any Vermont ski area to date.”
Opponents have questioned whether the state can properly monitor the work on the ridge line.
Appeals have been launched about the certificate itself and the slew of other permits such as storm-water runoff that are needed by the project. Appeals go to the Public Service Board for reconsideration before going on to the Vermont Supreme Court.
GMP contractors are required to meet with neighbors about blasting schedules and to monitor noise during and after construction, plus impacts on wells.
GMP also must train local first responders and develop a transportation plan for the large turbine pieces.
Once the turbines begin operating, GMP will pay as much as a half-million dollars annually to the town of Lowell in taxes for the life of the 25-year project. Five neighboring communities that border the project will also receive smaller payments under GMP’s Good Neighbor plan.
GMP serves 95,000 customers across Vermont. VEC serves 34,000 members.