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Protest planned at Sheffield Wind ribbon cutting

SHEFFIELD – As hundreds of invited guests prepare to attend the Sheffield Wind Farm grand opening Wednesday, protesters are planning to line up outside the development an hour before the planned ceremony.

In an e-mail sent out by Greg Bryant Thursday, details of the planned protest are noted, as well as opposition to the 16 turbine wind farm, built and owned by First Wind, a Massachusetts company.

The group that has fought long and hard against First Wind’s Sheffield wind farm, Ridge Protectors, “is now part of a larger statewide group called Energize Vermont,” Bryant said.

Of the long legal battle Ridge Protectors waged, Bryant said, “We held this project off for nearly 10 years. Longer than any other project in the States, I believe. We created a controversy – where there was none – and we educated a great number of people around the state on industrial scale wind, and what it is really about. We had our pristine mountains 10 years longer than we would have, we got to swim and boat one more summer, hike and bike for one more year, it cost us $2 million dollars … It was worth it.”

The wind farm has been the subject of a years-long legal battle, in which First Wind has almost completely prevailed. One final challenge remains before the state’s Supreme Court, over the issuance of a construction storm water permit, but all 16 towers, more than 400 feet tall, are now erected and operational.

In the news release sent to Vermont media, the protesters note, “Many, many residents and surrounding towns still oppose this project. The company has not been welcomed by the community. This is probably the reason for the closed ceremony. This has been a long battle, a community that spent nearly $1 million dollars fighting this project. Sheffield selectmen are bound under this agreement to support this project. … Sealed, confidential contracts were signed with individual voters, landowners and residents, reimbursing them over the course of 20 years.”

The protesters’ release continued, “To date, no money has been received by the town for this project; it is predicted that no money will be received until 2013.”

“Contracts on Hardscrabble Mountain were paid initially, and then stopped when the towers were dropped. Ten more towers are in the works at the Sheffield town offices, according to local officials,” the protesters’ notice stated. “Sutton voted six to one against it; Barton voted unanimously against it. 1,100 signatures were sent to the governor against this project. (Former) Gov. Douglas still speaks against this project and industrial scale wind.”

According to the protesters’ press release, the dedication is to celebrate the state’s first utility-scale wind energy project, which will generate enough power for more than 14,000 homes in Vermont, or nearly half of the homes in the Northeast Kingdom, with power being sold to the Burlington Electric Department, the Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc., and the Washington Electric Cooperative.

Speakers for the event include Gov. Peter Shumlin, Paul Gaynor, CEO of First Wind, Avram Patt, general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative, and Max Aldrich, Sheffield selectman. The ceremony and ribbon-cutting are set for 11 a.m. with a noon luncheon to follow.

John Lamontagne, spokesman for First Wind, said Thursday that “we’ve invited a couple hundred people to come,” to the event.