State utility regulators agreed to protect the financial details of deals that Green Mountain Power cut with landowners as part of the Lowell wind project.
The Vermont Public Service Board has also approved the leases GMP needed as a condition that the board required before construction is completed on the wind project.
Viewers of Vermont This Week, a public affairs program on Vermont Public Television, ranked the Lowell wind project as one of the top news stories of 2011.
So far, GMP has conserved more than 2,700 acres of land in the Northeast Kingdom in mitigation for the 159 acres being used for the wind project, GMP President and CEO Mary Powell announced this week.
That includes a fragmentary-conservation easement created with the Vermont Land Trust and Eden Echo Forestry that the board approved in late December. That easement alone cost GMP more than $1 million.
These land deals and others put together the wind project site and the easements that allow access.
The board wanted details about the leases to ensure oversight.
“The board’s primary purpose in requiring GMP to file any executed leases covering project lands was to ensure that relevant state officials would have access to the project site to enforce any of the conditions imposed by the certificate of public good and to ensure that project decommissioning could commence in a timely fashion when required if GMP was unable or unwilling to do so at that time,” the board wrote Dec. 16.
In a separate order, the board announced it would protect financial information in several “wind-park” and easement leases and agreements between GMP and landowners.
One deal, reached in February 2010, is with Nathan and Tucker Corrow, Douglas Corrow, Jeffrey Brown and Gary Dubuque.
A second, amended late in 2011, is with Peter and Deborah Mygatt, who own property to the north of avid wind project opponents Don and Shirley Nelson of Lowell. GMP had tried to purchase the Nelson farm for $1 million, the asking price, but the Nelsons refused the deal, raising the asking price to $2 million.
The board agreed to seal from public disclosure the amount of the base payments, minimum operating payments, royalty percentages and other details that GMP has agreed to pay the landowners.
Board members James Volz, David Coen and John Burke wrote Dec. 16 that, since 2001, they have required petitioners like GMP to explain why information should be kept confidential. That means GMP had to show that the information, if released, would cause harm to individuals and is commercial or trade information that should be protected, and that GMP had a good cause to be keep it secret.
“This arrangement appropriately places a heavy burden on the party seeking confidentiality to justify that decision,” the board wrote.
Parties to the Lowell wind hearing process did not contest the application by GMP for protection of the information. However, the board said that it reviews the request just the same.
GMP told the board that:
• Disclosure of the financial terms would reveal personal income information of the property owners, which is typically treated as confidential.
• Disclosure of the financial terms “would make it more difficult for GMP to negotiate cost-effectively similar agreements in the future.
• Memos about commercial leases and their terms traditionally don’t include sensitive information.
The board agreed with GMP, saying the information is sensitive, should be protected and there is good cause to protect it.
The agreements are in place for 47 years and 11 months, according to GMP.
The board said the protective order is not guaranteed to be in place for that long, since the board reserves the right to revisit and amend the protective order.
And the board said that parties in the hearing process have the right to challenge the protective order.
The board, in issuing a conditional certificate of public good in May, required that GMP obtain easements of “adequate size and location” to address fragmentation of habitat that would be caused by the Lowell wind project that GMP calls Kingdom Community Wind.
The board gave GMP until the end of 2011 to arrange to protect those easements. GMP finally made the deals in early December.
In a Dec. 23 order, the board approved GMP’s proposal to conserve 1,662 acres of wildlife habitat on two parcels in Eden.
The Eden parcels are “the most important that we could identify for maintaining ecological connectivity and addressing the fragmentation impacts of the wind project,” said Vermont Agency of Natural Resources attorney Jon Groveman in a letter filed with the board.
The conserved land, on either side of East Hill Road, helps maintain the ecological and landscape connectivity that currently exists between the Lowell Mountain Habitat block and Green River Reservoir habitat block.
In addition, GMP has also conserved approximately 1,070 acres on Lowell Mountain. Of these acres, 778 acres will be conserved in perpetuity and another 292 acres will be conserved for the life of project plus 25 years.
“We heard loud and clear that Vermonters want renewable energy, including projects like Lowell wind, built in Vermont,” said Powell. “While the construction of any new electrical generation has environmental impacts, Green Mountain Power worked hard to minimize the impacts in building Kingdom Community Wind. Where these impacts could not be avoided we worked closely with wildlife specialists to forever preserve natural habitat and wildlife corridors.”
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