There is a fundamental problem with the way that wind farm development is occurring in our mountains, resulting from a lack of planning which would provide citizens and regulators with a better opportunity to know where these projects may be sited in the future.
On other issues Vermont has a long history of protection of its ridgelines through a public process that allows for more thoughtful and orderly consideration. One example is the report of the Gibb Commission which led to the adoption of Act 250 in 1970. All development over 2,500 feet was subjected to Act 250 review regardless of its size. Criterion 8 of that act protects aesthetic and scenic values. However, public utility development is not subject to these rules.
When major issues of ridgeline development have arisen in the past, the voice of the citizens has been powerful, and Vermont stands out as a place where public opinion and participation in these major issues is possible. An example is the Green Mountain Parkway, proposed along the spine of the Green Mountains. In this case, the legislature concluded that this dramatic change required a vote of the people, and it was promptly rejected by the voters. In its place we have the Green Mountain Club’s “footpath in the wilderness” – the Long Trail.
With this history in mind, I think we could do a much better job in planning for the development of wind projects, keeping in mind our proud history of recognizing that our mountains, ridgelines and hill tops have great value and importance in making Vermont such a special place, and where we have managed to avoid some of the type of development which would seriously impact our values as well as our tourist-based economy.
Under the present situation, there is no advance opportunity to understand where the next proposal will occur, and to what extent these projects will cumulatively compromise the beauty of our mountains. Grandpa’s Knob and the recent approval by the Green Mountain National Forest are two of the latest examples of projects where we are confronted with dramatic changes to our ridgelines in a less than transparent manner. With the governor’s recently published energy policy, and the potential opening of all public land to consideration, it is clear that such development could occur anywhere.
Therefore, I believe that the Agency of Natural Resources, consulting with the Public Service Board, should undertake a planning process to determine the ultimate scope of wind power development, the appropriate criteria, and where the most suitable sites will be. It would define the extent to which Vermont’s ridgelines would be impacted, and would help to guide the location of individual projects. Citizen involvement needs to be an important part of this planning process. A proactive, rather than reactive, approach is badly needed.
Wind power is important – but until we develop clearer public policy, transparency in location, and a process for citizen involvement, then the landscape in Vermont may be compromised without adequate review.
John Ewing is the former chair of the Vermont Environmental Board.
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