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HOLLAND – On Monday night Holland residents questioned what compensation, if any, the town can expect if the wind turbines proposed for neighboring Derby are built. In particular, some residents disputed the assertion from Chad Farrell of Encore Redevelopment that wind turbines would not have any affect on property values.
Mr. Farrell and a group of concerned citizens came to Monday’s regular meeting of the Holland selectmen to discuss the issue.
Mitch Wonson said that a study performed by Clarkson University in New York revealed that property values declined between 8 percent and 15 percent. This was in marked contrast to the results of the Lawrence Berkley study that Mr. Farrell often cited, which found no direct correlation between wind turbines and property values.
Mr. Wonson was appointed by the town selectmen to represent the town in matters regarding the Derby wind project.
The view to the west of Stearns Brook Road is that of a peaceful, rural landscape, resident Andrew Bouchard said. What recourse will landowners have once the towers are up and that landscape is forever changed, he asked.
Mr. Farrell replied that it would be difficult to say what the project developers could do for individual landowners. While he promised to use operational controls to minimize excessive sound, addressing property value loss is beyond the scope of what he was prepared or able to do.
This issue is particularly relevant for the town as a whole, Mr. Wonson said. Specifically, should some landowners find their land values decreased as a result of the wind turbines, this would create a cost shift onto other residents by forcing their taxes higher to compensate for the declining values of affected landowners.
Because the project lies outside Holland, promising some manner of tax payment to the town is not possible, Mr. Farrell said. However, he said he had requested information on the annual electric bills of both the Holland Town office and Holland Elementary School. The project developers would be willing to cover the electric bills of the municipality as a gesture of good will, Mr. Farrell said.
The developers had already accepted a request for additional sound studies to support claims that turbine noise levels at nearby homes would be at or below the state standard of 45 decibels. Mr. Farrell also said that the sites would be monitored to ensure that the sound levels remain within the acceptable parameters.
“So all this monitoring is going to be done after the fact?” Selectman Norm Fortin said.
When Mr. Farrell acknowledged that this was the case, Mr. Fortin said it may already be too late at that point.
“So if there’s a problem you’re not going to take them down,” Mr. Fortin said.
“No, we wouldn’t take them down,” Mr. Farrell agreed. Instead, the developers would employ operational controls to minimize the noise.
Tami LaPointe, a neighbor to the farm of Jonathan and Jayne Chase, expressed her concerns about having the wind turbines so close to her property. She said she is worried about property values, the affect of turbine sound on the quality of life of humans and animals, and the danger of ice throws from the turbine blades.
Being so near the project but lying just beyond the town line, Ms. LaPointe worried about enduring all of the negative impacts of the project, while being unable to enjoy any of its benefits.
The potential hazard of ice throws was a very real concern, she said. “If it’s going to fling toward my place, you’re right, I am worried,” she said.
Ms. LaPointe said that she had read reports of ice being thrown up to half a mile away. Mr. Farrell replied that he was unfamiliar with any reports of ice throws beyond 50 meters or approximately 160 feet from the turbine site.
“Ice throws of half a mile?” Mr. Farrell said. “I’ve never heard of it.”
Though the big turbines spin much more slowly, there is a tremendous amount of potential energy in each rotation of the blade, Ms. LaPointe said. Bryan Davis, one of the farmers who will host the westernmost of the two proposed towers, said the large turbines rotate about 17 times per minute. By way of comparison, his current, smaller turbine rotates at approximately 500 rotations per minute.
Page Worthen expressed her concerns about the effect noise might have on animals. Given that the two sites hosting the towers are working dairy farms, the effects on animal health should be seriously considered, she said.
“Happy cows are productive cows,” Ms. Worthen said. “What if you’re making the cows dizzy and sick?”
Mr. Farrell replied that he was unaware of any peer reviewed study that exhibited a link between wind turbine operation and adverse effects on animal health. However, he added, the project’s developers would take great pains to safeguard human and animal health.
Mr. Farrell was also questioned about why the developers are considering two different turbine designs. Earlier in the evening he had mentioned the use of either the 2.2-megawatt magnet driven turbine designed by Northern Power Systems of Barre or a turbine designed by Hyundai. The Northern Power Systems turbine is reputed to be the quietest design on the market, and the Hyundai turbine the second quietest.
The developers would prefer to use the Vermont-made turbine, Mr. Farrell said, but there are concerns about Northern Power Systems’ ability to build and deliver them in time.
Therefore the developers had to have a back-up plan in place, he said.
Mr. Bouchard asked why the project opted to use such large turbines instead of using more, smaller turbines better suited to the landscape.
Mr. Farrell replied that there are two considerations guiding the type of turbines being proposed – the rules of the state’s SPEED (Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development) program and the probability of attracting investment capital.
Under the SPEED program, each location is limited to a single connection to the transmission grid. As such it would not be possible to connect two or three smaller turbines in place of a single 2.2-megawatt turbine. Secondly, the smaller the turbine and, thusly, the lower the electrical output, the more difficult it is to secure financing.
Though the visual impact of the wind turbines is considerable, other renewable energy ventures could prove even more so, Mr. Farrell said. The two turbines will produce approximately 14-million kilowatt hours of power per year while occupying a footprint of less than two acres.
A solar array capable of producing a comparable amount of electricity would occupy 45 acres, he said. While solar power has tremendous potential for small-scale generation, it poses severe limitations on a commercial scale.
Mr. Farrell also fielded questions on the price of the electricity generated by the turbines. Under the SPEED program the turbines will generate an average of 12.2 cents per kilowatt hour, a sum that is currently above the market price for electricity. However, he added, that rate is guaranteed for 20 years. That stable price makes the project appealing to the Vermont Electric Cooperative, he said
“Twelve cents over ten years is decent,” Mr. Farrell said. “Twelve cents over 15 to 18 years is really good.”
Resident Ernie Emmerson took a moment to address the gathering. While the developers may get the impression that most Holland residents are opposed to the wind turbines, Mr. Emmerson assured Mr. Farrell that this was not, in fact, the case.
The town of Holland treasures its rural character and farm dotted landscape, he said. If hosting wind turbines is what becomes necessary to ensure the survival of the area’s farms, that is a concession the town should be willing to make.
But should the survival of one farm cause the demise of another, Ms. LaPointe countered. There are always two sides to each story, she said.
The prospect of saving the farm is precisely what inspired farmers around Chateauguay, New York, to explore commercial wind farms, said Susan Taylor of Derby. Ms. Taylor spent the first 18 years of her life in Chateauguay, she said. The experience with wind turbines failed to match the expectation, she said, and many residents now regret that decision.
The bigger question is one of securing the state and the nation’s energy future, Mr. Emmerson said. While Canada appears willing to export energy to the United States today, there are no guarantees that this spirit of cooperation will persist.
“We must be self-sufficient,” Mr. Emmerson said. “Is it best for everybody? No, it isn’t.”
Mr. Emmerson also took a snipe at the commercial energy development section of the Holland town plan. The section appears to demand everything shy of “your firstborn child” in order to have a commercial energy development project brought online in Holland, he said. It is a clear effort to stifle energy development in the town and, as such, is hardly representative of the town or its people, Mr. Emmerson said.
In closing, Mr. Farrell vowed to make himself available to answer questions from the town or its residents. He also said that Encore Redevelopment’s website would feature links to help keep interested parties abreast of developments during the Act 248 process.
As of Friday afternoon, however, the project still had not received a docket number from the Public Service Board (PSB), Mr. Farrell said.
Once the docket number is obtained and the legal process of Act 248 begins, members of the public are encouraged to participate in the hearings, he said. The PSB will ultimately decide whether or not the project receives the certificate of public good the developers need, if the project is to proceed.
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