(Host) The top energy official in the Shumlin administration says Vermont probably won’t see more big wind energy projects beyond those that have already been approved.
But the issue of how much wind power is enough for the state’s ridgelines continues to divide environmentalists.
VPR’s John Dillon has more:
(Host) The state’s comprehensive energy plan was unveiled this week with an ambitious goal: Vermont should meet 90 percent of all its energy needs from renewable sources by mid-century.
But how much of that will come from utility-scale wind – those 440-foot tall towers that capture the breezes blowing across Vermont’s ridgelines?
(Miller) “It really needs to be about a diversity of sources. And although wind is a part of that it is not in the plan recommended as certainly the focus, or the sole focus, or anything like that. It really is a diverse mix.”
(Dillon) Elizabeth Miller is commissioner of the Department of Public Service, the state agency that oversaw the energy plan. Miller says the wind projects that have already won state permits may be the right balance for the state’s energy mix.
(Miller) “Should all those projects be developed it will be about 7 or 8 percent of our load, which is actually significant when you compare other in-state renewable resources, such as biomass, which is about 10, and hydro, in-state, which is about 10 or 11 percent.”
(Dillon) The projects with state approval include Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine development now under construction in Lowell; a 16-turbine project planned on national forest land in southern Vermont; and four turbines approved for Georgia Mountain in Franklin County.
A large-scale wind project in Sheffield in the Northeast Kingdom went on line this fall. Others have been proposed for nearby ridgelines. And Miller says she’s aware that some residents feel their region already has too many turbines.
(Miller) “I heard last week up in the Northeast Kingdom the concern by some there that the Northeast Kingdom has perhaps a greater share of large wind projects than some feel is appropriate. And I’m sensitive to that concern.”
(Dillon) How much large-scale wind is enough is hotly debated among environmentalists. Paul Burns is executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. He wants to see 25 to 30 percent of Vermont’s electricity demand produced by in-state wind.
(Burns) “So the question is: Are you committed to really answering our energy needs in-state with the most sustainable resources available? If you are committed to that you’ve got to continue to look at wind. There aren’t innumerable number of sites. I think you’re talking about maybe a dozen to 20 in the state. But with that, you can provide a significant amount of power for our state.”
(Dillon) Annette Smith has the opposite view. She’s executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
Smith and other wind opponents say ridgeline wind can damage wildlife habitat and watersheds. Smith says about 220 turbines in a dozen projects are in the pipeline or have already won approval.
(Smith) “And when you actually look at even what’s been approved, there is no appropriate site for these big machines, especially on top of our mountains. This is simply an inappropriate technology for Vermont. And the sooner our leaders recognize that, the better.”
(Dillon) Governor Peter Shumlin remains an ardent wind supporter. He says he prefers wind and hydropower over large scale power plants that burn wood or other biomass fuels.
For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.
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