Lukas Snelling, executive director of Energize Vermont, warned a packed room at the Statehouse on Thursday that the environmental impacts of industrial scale wind are already apparent in Vermont.
“The blasting on Lowell Mountain is happening,” Snelling said. “The blades above the houses in Sheffield are spinning. We have the ability to investigate the impacts of this industrial development on our ridges and take the time to determine if we should let this continue throughout the state.”
Energize Vermont called for a moratorium on the further development of wind farms in Vermont at a press conference on Feb. 2.
Members of the organization argued that expanding industrial scale wind farms in Vermont will negatively affect mountain and forest habitats, water quality, and the health of communities near wind farms. Snelling talked about problems with Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain wind project. Last fall road construction for the 21 turbine wind farm was found in violation of the Clean Water Act and also prompted citizens to camp on Lowell Mountain in protest.
VPIRG executive director Paul Burns was skeptical of some of the arguments made by Snelling about wind power. VPIRG, a nonprofit consumer and environmental advocacy organization, also campaigns for renewable energy and it supports the construction of large-scale wind farms.
“Certainly the legislature isn’t going to enact a moratorium on wind in the state,” Burns said. “Vermont probably has the toughest regulations in the country with respect to wind development – it’s already very hard to build wind [installations] here.”
Burns’ prediction mirrored comments made by Sen. Virginia Lyons, D-Chittenden, who indicated that it is unlikely Vermont will drop wind farms from its renewable energy portfolio.
“The primary thing we can do in our state is to provide an efficient use of whatever kind of energy we have,” Lyons said. “And that energy should be renewable. Wind is in the mix, it’s not going away. But certainly we need to inform our regulatory process, and inform the discussion about the very issues that you bring to us.”
As part of its call for a moratorium, Energize Vermont proposes offsetting the expansion of wind farms with smaller-scale community based renewable energy projects, like solar panel installations.
Snelling said Vermont could purchase “renewable” energy from Hydro-Quebec and ISO-New England in the interim, as the state searches for solutions to nuclear power or fossil fuels. Hydropower is considered a form of “renewable energy” in Vermont, though this label is contested in other states including Connecticut.
Burns questioned the idea that wind power could be swapped for solar power. In a handout distributed by VPIRG at the event, the organization noted that one wind turbine at the Lowell wind farm produces as much power as 1,428 residential 5kW solar instillations or 62 community 100kW turbines.
“We think we should do small solar projects for sure, but it’s not an alternative,” Burns said. “I’m in lock step with these guys in the concept that we need to maximize small, but that’s not going to be the complete answer to our energy needs. They’re either being disingenuous or either misrepresenting the truth if they’re saying that’s a real alternative.”
Snelling was unfazed by VPIRG’s criticism, arguing that in VPIRG’s bid to shut down the Vermont Yankee, the organization would support any solution.
“Our stance is we want to build renewable energy projects in the right places and right ways,” Snelling said. “So our approach is more nuanced but it’s about caring and protecting the things that we all love – that’s our high quality water, unfragmented habitats, and our united and healthy communities.”
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