September 25, 2011

Permit In hand, GMP begins blasting roads

Robin Smith, Staff Writer, The Orleans Record, 24 September 2011

LOWELL – Green Mountain Power has received a critical wetland permit that allows wetlands work on Lowell Mountain to prepare for 21 large wind turbines.

The wetland permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers allows workers to enter wetlands to construct roads, turbine sites and the transmission lines, said Dorothy Schnure, spokeswoman for GMP.

“Although the 404 (permit) was not a pre-construction condition, it is a critical construction-related permit that is required for work on the mountain and on the transmission system,” she said.

More than 100 people worked on the site this week and 13 Vermont companies have crews there or are involved in some way. Two-thirds of those are Vermonters, Schnure said.

Blasting, one part of the construction of the wind project that had concerned opponents, began this week on the roads.

These roads will be used to carry the turbines to the ridge, she said.

The goal was to complete the preliminary roadwork to the ridgeline during the week and to begin work on the crane path along the ridgeline.

Large cranes have to be moved to the ridgeline line sites that will be used to erect the 459-foot-tall turbines.

The construction of the $150 million Lowell wind project, which will be the largest wind power development in Vermont, began in early September even as opponents continue to file appeals to the state utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board and to the Vermont Supreme Court.

Opponents this week said that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources should reconsider its stormwater runoff and water quality permits for the project in light of the damage that Tropical Storm Irene caused especially in the mountains of Vermont.

They said that there should be new concerns about the impact of construction on high elevation streams.

GMP also has some outstanding conditions set by the Public Service Board to meet before the turbines can go on line, but GMP officials have said they expect to have no problems with that.

GMP began construction despite the appeals, with officials saying that they believed that they had done their homework and their certificate of public good to build the project would survive the challenges.

And GMP is benefiting from a change in the appeal process that slowed the construction of the Sheffield wind project.

The Legislature changed the laws to require appeals of ANR permits to go to the Public Service Board, not the Vermont Environmental Court.

GMP wants to have the turbines up and spinning by the end of 2012 to secure millions of dollars in federal production tax credits to reduce the price of the electricity for its customers and for members of the Vermont Electric Cooperative, a partner in the project.

VEC is buying the electricity from the Lowell wind project at cost.

Transmission Work

Work on the collector substation, located on the mountain, is underway, Schnure said.

Meanwhile, work is continuing on the transmission system upgrades, which have been approved by the Public Service Board and the members of VEC.

The temporary substation in Jay, just south of Route 242, is now completed and will be energized later this fall, Schnure said.

The temporary substation will operate until the existing station’s upgrades are complete and the new transmission line is built from Lowell, she said.

The transmission line and substation work should be completed by April 1, 2012, she said.

Contractors also are preparing for a new substation in Lowell.

“New poles were delivered to the area late last week and some pole setting will begin this week. Tree clearing along the transmission corridor will also continue this week,” Schnure said.

Local Jobs

Currently, there are 117 individuals working in support of the construction phase of the Kingdom Community Wind project, Schnure said, up from 103 a week ago.

There are 13 different Vermont-based firms working on the project. More than two-thirds of those working on the project are Vermonters. Contractors associated with the wind project have created 23 new jobs for this project and are expected to add 35 more, Schnure said.

Of the contractors, road construction firm JA McDonald of Lyndon Center has 31 employees conducting site construction activities in Lowell.

ADA Security of Newport City is contractor for site security with 14 employees involved with the project, Schnure said.

On the transmission upgrades, 18 employees from New England Tree Experts in Hardwick are conducting tree trimming.

Other Vermont companies have employees working on the Lowell project, including ECI of Burlington, Northern Realm Power of Colchester and general contractor Reed & Reed.

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