SHEFFIELD – The opening of the largest active industrial-scale wind project in Vermont was celebrated Wednesday by Gov. Peter Shumlin and other state officials.
First Wind’s wind farm consists of 16 400+foot high wind turbines, which are now operational. By Tuesday night they were powering at full speed, said First Wind environmental manager Josh Bagnato. He opened the ceremony which drew several hundred people.
Among them were Sheffield town officials, including Sheffield Board of Selectmen Chairman Max Aldrich, members of the town’s planning commission, and students from Millers Run School.
About two dozen protesters gathered before the 11 a.m. event at the entrance to the wind farm.
Protester Greg Bryant said protesters were from the Energize Vermont group, and came from various locations in the state. They planned to travel to Lowell to protest a wind farm planned there as well.
Holding signs that ranged from “Shame on Shumlin” to “Grrr…,” the protesters, one wearing a mask as the shuttle buses ascended to turbine four, wanted it known that Wednesday was not a cause for celebration.
“We’re actually hoping this project will be an example of what not to do,” said Bryant, speaking for the group. The group included longtime opponents, once part of Ridge Protectors, and people ranging in age from the elderly to 3-year-old Bryn Waring of Sheffield Heights. She attended the protest with her mom, Caitlin Irwin.
The legal fight that the neighbors, property owners and others involved in the battle put up cost more than $1 million, said Bryant, and was waged for nearly a decade. Ridge Protectors had 400 members at one point and 1,100 people signed a petition fighting the wind farm, he said.
Norma Williams, a Sheffield native and a member of the town’s planning commission, was among those attending the grand opening.
“I think it’s wonderful,” Williams said. “I was behind this project from day one, and I enjoy seeing two of them from my front window.”
Standing beneath one of the massive white, pinwheel-shaped structures, she said, “It’s a wonderful, wonderful project for the town. It’s a beautiful sight. They kind of just fit into the landscape.”
Construction of the wind farm took 13 months, but the overall effort to build the wind farm was eight years long, said Bagnato, a native Vermonter who said he is proud of First Wind’s perseverance in making the project happen to bring clean energy and jobs to his home state.
Bagnato said the farm was running at full capacity, 40 megawatts, and could power 15,000 homes throughout Vermont.
First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor said Wednesday was a nostalgic day for the company, which had no wind projects when it first began working on the idea of a wind farm in Sheffield. Today, Massachusetts-based First Wind has 11 with four more in the works.
More than 100 full-time equivalent jobs were created while the farm was under construction, many local contractors worked all year. And about 10 jobs permanently are now associated with the farm. A total of $10 million in tax revenue will be going to Sheffield in an agreement local officials signed with the company.
In taking the microphone, Shumlin made it clear he wants to see more clean energy coming to Vermont, and that he is behind the First Wind project.
He talked for a few minutes about the three floods his administration has been working on since he took office and said the reason he brought that up was that he believes climate change is a huge threat to the next generation and that our nation – and Vermont – must stop its addiction to coal and oil. He said it must rely on U.S.-generated clean energy resources, such as the new wind farm.
“I can’t tell you how happy I am to be here,” Shumlin said. The state, he said, is committed to being 90 percent powered by renewables by 2050.
“And we will do it,” he said to cheers. The Sheffield wind project, he said, has brought jobs, economic opportunity and a good, oil-free energy source.
Vermont has a long history of firsts, said Shumlin, and leading the way with renewables should be no different. He said the state was the first in the nation to abolish slavery, to give women the right to vote and to allow for same-sex marriage without a court order. He said he is delighted to see Vermont be a leader in the clean energy movement, and will push for its continuation state-wide.
Gaynor said First Wind has invested more than $100 million in the project, and withstood many legal challenges.
“We felt we had an obligation to try to make wind work in Vermont,” he said. “Yes, we are a Boston-based company, but the people who did the heavy lifting to make this project happen are Vermonters.”
Gaynor talked about the environmental systems built in to protect wildlife and water at the site, saying they are above and beyond any wind project he knows of, and that during bat migration season, the wind farm will scale back. Extreme efforts went into having as light a footprint for the environment and wildlife as possible, he said.
“First Wind has worked hard over many years to develop and build the Sheffield wind project the right way, and today’s commercial operations have been a long time coming,” he said. “In designing and building this project, First Wind was highly attentive to protecting the natural resources here at the site. We believe this project is one of the most innovative in the country in taking steps to reduce overall impacts to the natural resources.”
Selectman Max Aldrich praised First Wind. He said it has been very good to work with, from road work needed to bring the huge wind tower components into the community to every detail of the development.
Aldrich said he’s learned a lot about democracy and that his faith in entrepreneurship has been renewed. He said the company went through incredible scrutiny to obtain its permits.
“We are doing our part to reduce the nation’s carbon footprint,” he said, referring to the town of Sheffield.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding