DERBY – Opponents of a proposed wind turbine project asked the Derby select board to enter a contract with the developer to protect the town from liability.
At the regular meeting Monday evening, opponents cited several concerns related to health, property value decline, and decommissioning of the project.
“We should not assume and we should not operate on the basis that Encore Redevelopment is our ‘friend,'” opponent Vicky Lewis said, using finger quotes. “They are not our friend.”
Lewis was referring to developer Encore Redevelopment’s plan to build two wind turbines on farmlands in Derby Line owned by Bryan and Sue Davis and by Jonathan and Jayne Chase. The towers, with blades fully extended, will be a maximum of 427 feet tall.
The Public Service Board (PSB) will hold a hearing on the matter Monday at 7 p.m. at Derby Elementary School in Derby Line. Townspeople in Derby, Derby Line, Derby Center, and Holland are invited to air concerns there.
Lewis said fully funding the decommissioning of the project should be part of any contract. Lewis said Encore is only setting aside half that cost, relying on the scrap metal market for the remaining half.
That leaves the town liable, she said.
“That’s absolutely false,” according to Chad Farrell, principle at Encore.
During a phone conversation Tuesday, Farrell said that in order to be granted a certificate of public good, the project must show adequate funding to decommission the project after 20 years.
The value of the steel alone will bring in a good deal of that money, he said.
Dan Lewis said Encore has $5 million in liability insurance, and Selectmen Karen Jenne asked if that was enough, keeping in mind that the town carries $10 million in liability insurance.
Farrell said Encore and the contractor will each have $5 million in liability insurance, which he said was a “redundancy in coverage.”
“I think the town needs this stuff in writing,” Jenne said.
Jenne also cited concerns about transparency in the process, saying it took her five months to get her questions answered by Farrell.
But Davis said Farrell answered every question posed during public meetings leading up to this point.
Lewis said she hoped that townspeople’s concerns would be included in any contract. The people have the “onus of responsibility,” she said, because the “PSB seems to be slanted toward developers.”
Davis said Tuesday that this is the first he’s heard about a contract, but he’s in favor of anything that helps lessen people’s concerns. He said he’s not trying to shove anything down anyone’s throats.
Rick Joyal said he was concerned about a drop in property values for homes located in proximity to the project. In some places, those values drop 20 percent after wind turbines go up, he said. How will the town recoup lost tax revenue, he asked.
“I feel $78,000 for 20 years is a pretty good chunk of money,” Selectman Brian Smith said, referring to the annual tax payment from Encore to the town.
Farrell said an independent study showed that there is no statistical evidence that property values decline with proximity to wind towers. And unlike other kinds of development, wind towers do not create a need for additional services, like roads, teachers, or emergency personnel.
Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) is behind the project, Farrell said. Not only will the project provide additional power generation and stabilize the grid in the area, it will also provide $1 million in power line improvements, a cost that would have been borne by ratepayers, he said.
A newcomer to Derby, Glenda Nye, said she was concerned about the effects on human health from living near turbines, citing a study done by the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia.
That study, based on 20 respondents, indicates that proximity to turbines can cause chronic sleeplessness, acute hypertensive crisis, and worsening of otherwise stabilized conditions, Nye said.
Farrell said there are no concerns about human health associated with projects like the one proposed. “The Public Service Board has a robust and complete process to speak to those effects,” he said.
Furthermore, the development is not taking place on a ridgeline, like projects in Sheffield in Lowell. Because the lands are already cleared and roads are in place, there is no environmental impact associated with the project either.
At its core, Farrell said, the project is about preserving the working landscape while allowing dairy farmers to continue to farm without constant concerns about the fluctuating price of milk.
He said Derby, Derby Line and Holland will make significantly more money off the project than investors, landowners, or developers.
Vicky Lewis said that is “horse puckeys.”
Smith said he doesn’t care what a private business makes for money because it’s none of his business.
Farrell said the project is also a “tremendous opportunity for job creation” during the construction phase with a focus on hiring local folks to do work.
Farrell said the hearing next Monday is but the first step in the process.
Davis said he hopes people on both sides of the issue attend the hearing. He expressed his appreciate to all five selectmen. “It certainly cannot be an easy position to sit in,” he said.