In a much simpler world, we might say to Green Mountain Power Corporation (GMP) to the Vermont Public Service Board, to our state’s congressional delegation, to the state’s major environmental organizations, such as the Green Mountain Club and VPIRG and the Vermont Natural Resources Council, to the voters in the Northeast Kingdom town of Lowell, who overwhelmingly voted for industrial wind turbines on the ridgeline of Lowell – we might say to them:
“These mountain ridgelines have been here for thousands of years. Take a look at them. You can’t put a price tag on something that is irreplaceable. Leave Lowell Mountain alone.”
Well, we’re not living in that much simpler world. Across America today, there’s an almost mortal desperation to free ourselves from imported energy, which means finding and extracting more domestic energy, and climate change is raising seawater temperatures, melting ice caps and glaciers and producing more freak weather events.
• As recently as this past October, British Petroleum, 18 months ago maligned for the Deepwater Oil disaster,
has once again been cleared to drill for oil in the Gulf of Mexico.
• On October 21, Royal Dutch was granted its final air discharge permit to explore for oil in Beaufort Sea in the Arctic waters of Alaska.
• In recent months the Keystone Pipeline project has attracted controversy and opposition. As envisaged, the pipeline would link the tar sands fields of northern Alberta to the oil refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.
Details of the Lowell Wind Project
According to GMP spokesperson Dorothy Schnure, the Lowell Mountain wind turbine project envisages 21 three-megawatt turbines to have an impact on 175 acres of land and three miles of ridgeline on Lowell Mountain. All told, the 21 turbines are estimated to produce 63 megawatts of power, enough electricity for 24,000 homes.
The local economic impacts are not inconsiderable. As a result of Lowell’s vote to approve the wind turbine project, GMP will pay Lowell about half a million dollars a year in property taxes. In addition, there’s a good neighbor fund to benefit towns within five miles of the project. The fund will provide a minimum benefit of $10,000 a year for 10 years to neighboring towns.
If the wind turbine project is built before the end of 2012, the U.S. federal government will provide $48 million in production tax credits. Said Schnure, “Every single penny [of the credits] will go to lower the cost of electricity to our customers.”
The wind turbine project has divided conservationists across Vermont. But clearly some conservationists are solidly behind it.
Schnure quoted one local person as saying, “I grow my own food. I raise my own goats. I will see these wind towers from my house and I’m glad to know where my power is coming from.”
Another Lowell resident said, “I’m off the grid. I want to have the wind turbines. I believe in renewable energy. I think the negative aspects of wind are less severe than the negative aspects of developing other forms of energy.”
Opposition to Lowell Wind
Vermonters who oppose the Lowell Mountain wind turbine project cite storm-water runoff, wildlife habitat destruction and habitat fragmentation. They have raised issues of noise and sleep disturbance from industrial-scale turbines over 400 feet tall. “Turbines,” they write, “can catch on fire, throw blades thousands of feet and even completely collapse.”
Opponents of the Lowell Mountain project contend that there’s no current need for additional electrical energy in New England or Vermont. And they see negligible benefits in wind power’s contribution to lowering our carbon footprint. It is heating our homes and driving our cars, they assert, that’s producing most of the carbon in the state, not electricity.
Energize Vermont, an organization opposed to the Lowell project, has assembled a list of wind power proposals across Vermont – 10 in all, totaling up to 403 megawatts. The proposed sites are located across the state, from Sheffield to Waitsfield and Milton to Manchester. Some have been approved, while others are still in the talking stages.
What We Think of the Lowell Wind Project
We understand the desire to produce renewable energy in the face of climate-change urgencies. We are concerned, however, about the proliferation of planned wind power developments up and down the spine of the Green Mountains.
We therefore oppose lifting the 2004 moratorium.
We think the development of wind power on Lowell Mountain has proceeded with undue haste. The mountains are an irreplaceable natural resource. Leave them alone.
Instead, we say, look at the promise of solar energy that many people say will be competitive in five years. Furthermore, we see convincing amounts of energy that can be saved by continuing our aggressive push for energy efficiency.
Although he took no official position on the Lowell wind project, Asa Hopkins at the Department of Public Service articulated a perspective we agree with wholeheartedly: “Environmentally, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Except maybe energy efficiency. That’s why energy efficiency always comes first.”
In thinking about the $48 million of production credits that the federal government will contribute if the Lowell project is completed before the end of 2012 – in thinking of this $48 million, we wonder, “What if this money could be spent on energy-efficiency measures such as weatherizing our homes and cutting our electrical demands?”
We prefer avoided energy projects to energy projects that will destroy Vermont’s precious ridgelines.
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