This newspaper, in its Sunday, Dec. 25, edition, reported the details of my arrest on criminal trespass charges in a front-page story about the Lowell Mountains wind development controversy. It also gave my hometown as Albany and offered details as to my volunteer responsibilities to the town of Craftsbury. Much of this was incorrect, and the paper has since offered me this opportunity to correct the record. I appreciate that.
Readers may recall that on Dec. 5, 2011, a group of people ascended the east flank of the Lowell Mountains and strode onto disputed land, the legal ownership contested by the Nelson family and Trip Wileman. Mr. Wileman leased this and adjacent uncontested property to Green Mountain Power for a wind turbine installation: 21 459-foot tall turbines along the ridgeline. GMP then clear-cut and blasted a portion of the three-plus miles of ridgeline road through the contested property.
The Nelson family had the property line resurveyed by a respected, licensed surveyor. He testified in Orleans County Superior Court that the property, amounting to approximately 28 acres, does indeed belong to the Nelsons. In addition, the Nelsons submitted testimony regarding the same issue before the Public Service Board (PSB). While the board is on record as saying GMP is responsible for having clear title to the land they need for their project, the board stopped short of insisting that this matter be resolved before GMP started construction. It should be a red flag for all Vermonters that a state permitting agency would allow a project to proceed without clear title to the land, in effect abdicating their responsibility.
When protesters stepped onto the contested land in the company of Barton Chronicle publisher and reporter Chris Braithwaite, I was not among them. I was safely ensconced in my living room in front of the stove, in the town of Craftsbury, not Albany, disseminating information on the arrests and taking calls from the press.
Dottie Schnure, GMP’s public relations person, was quoted as referring to the people who were on the contested property as “trespassers.” Given the surveyor’s testimony to the court, and the Nelsons’ before the PSB, one can’t help but ask: Is not GMP the alleged trespasser?
Sunday’s article also gave an incorrect description of my role regarding the town of Craftsbury’s status as an intervenor in the Public Service Board Section 248 review of GMP’s application to build the Lowell Mountains wind energy facility.
My role on behalf of the town is as a volunteer. I work with an attorney and expert witnesses to shape the overall presentation of the town’s case before the Public Service Board. Our Select Board receives regular briefings on these efforts via the Town Conservation Commission. The town of Craftsbury has never taken a position “opposing” the Lowell Mountains Wind project, and I have never referred to the town as “opposed” to the project. The Select Board decided to enter the Section 248 permitting process as an “intervenor,” in order to protect town interests and raise issues and concerns that were identified by the Select Board, the Conservation Commission and individual residents. This action is congruent with a Select Board’s mandate in law.
Finally, that the author referred to the area of law as “Act” 248 is an important distinction, primarily because it is wrong. There is a big difference between “Section” 248 (of Title 30) and “Act” 248. The former is the section of law under which utility generation and transmission is regulated. Act 248 governs the care and welfare of people with mental health issues.
Reporting errors – those about my personal circumstances being more symbolic than an example of systemic duplicity – are none the less part of a larger cascade of misinformation and half-truths. Vermonters are awash in it on the subject of big wind and renewable energy generation – from developers, regulators, policymakers, and sadly even from municipal officials doing the bidding of developers. This is unfolding – some would argue aided and abetted – by a permitting process lacking in rigor for these types of projects.
In fairness, some of the most harmful side effects have only become widely documented as a result of the installation of thousands of turbines around the world in the past five years. Turbines have gotten taller – from 200 feet (Searsburg) to 459 feet (Lowell), and even taller elsewhere. These newer machines have little track record, and we are all part of a grand experiment with few protections in place for neighbors and towns, especially on issues of public health, water flows, and property values.
As an incentive for developing wind energy the utilities/developers receive renewable energy credits. These have monetary value and can be sold. Few Vermonters realize that when the developers sell the renewable energy credits (as GMP and most utility-scale wind developers do in Vermont) there is no retirement of atmospheric carbon. Commonly, the renewable attributes of the project are sold to a fossil fuel utility so they can keep polluting. For those who extol the virtue and presumed necessity of “sacrifice,” including Gov. Shumlin, in this scenario sacrifice does not result in an environmental gain. This moral pandering to a largely uninformed public is also blind to the considerable environmental costs that are currently not required in the cost-benefit analysis for these projects.
We have a long way to go to get all the facts about renewables, in part because the facts are changing as the technology and its costs change. Those of us committed to the facts are willing to chalk up an occasional error about our actions to inevitability, chance, and unmerciful media deadlines. What will not be accepted as inevitable is the continued destruction of our environment, tarnishing the Vermont brand and unnecessarily high electric rates. Vermonters must be given the facts and a permitting process that protects citizens as well as it currently insulates developers from the true cost of their projects.
Steve Wright is a former Vermont commissioner of fish and wildlife.
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