DERBY – Derby Line Wind Project developer Chad Farrell is calling for a slower pace to regulatory hearings in light of all the recent controversy that has spilled across the U.S.-Canadian border.
Farrell, of Encore Redevelopment, said he no longer is trying to get quick approval from the Vermont Public Service Board in time to erect his two proposed turbines for Derby farms this year.
“We are now looking at a situation of a 2013 build,” he said Friday.
Slowing the process could risk the incentives that might not be in place next year, in the form of federal tax breaks and guaranteed higher purchase price for the electricity the turbines would generate. That’s a risk Farrell said he and his partners will take in order to avoid the stress of pushing for a quick review.
“We believe in the merits of the project,” he said.
It will be OK if it takes longer for the facts to get out, he added.
Farrell expects technical hearings before the PSB this summer.
Several problems with notification of abutting landowners, on both sides of the border here, has contributed to the delay in the proceedings. And the deadline stress has burned out support for the project even among the more ardent backers.
Farrell spoke Friday after a week of turmoil in the Derby area over the wind project.
Two 425-foot-tall turbines are proposed for two farm fields in Derby nestled on the border near Derby Line and Holland in Vermont and Stanstead in Quebec.
At first, most local officials on both sides of the border were supportive of the project, attending meetings with Farrell and his partners through the summer and fall last year. Most said it would benefit local farmers, although there were a few early critics. Stanstead’s mayor said at one point that no one had called him except media about it.
But Encore had not officially notified Canadian landowners whose property abuts the host farms, under legal advice that said it wasn’t required.
PSB Hearing Officer John Cotter ordered Encore to send notification to abutting property owners in Stanstead, and some said they had not known about it and raised so many concerns that Stanstead’s council suddenly voted to fight it.
And Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil said this week he would – if he could – cut off water supply to the hamlet of Beebe Plain in Derby served by water from Stanstead. He didn’t say the same about the water supply shared with Derby Line, where voters at the village’s annual meeting opposed the wind project.
The cross-border complaints prompted a divided Derby select board this week to tell their attorney not to negotiate with Encore over a contract that would cover training for firefighters and annual payments.
Another problem emerged in recent weeks as well, when several abutters in Derby and Holland complained to Encore and the PSB that they didn’t receive notification either. Encore’s attorney accepted the blame. But the damage was done, with more than a dozen landowners left out of the information loop.
And many are disputing details that Encore’s attorney has put in recent letters to them about the project.
The PSB hearing officer has not yet ruled on whether Stanstead or several groups of residents from both sides of the border can intervene at this point.
Encore is still working to find those areas that are in agreement with the accepted parties, like the Agency of Natural Resources, Vermont Department of Public Service and the town of Holland and village of Derby Line. But as of now, Derby is no longer part of that discussion.
The Derby Select Board did not vote to oppose the project, but a majority of the board now have publicly expressed concerns about it.
Farrell said it was unfortunate that no one from the select board was able to take a tour last week of the Sheffield wind project or receive public reports from town officials who did attend. “That would alleviate some of the concerns made in the media,” he said.
The Sheffield wind project will hold an open house May 31.
“We are suggesting to everybody who is concerned about these projects to attend this tour. See things for yourselves,” Farrell said.
Encore wants the support of Derby but does not have to have it to earn a certificate of public good, he said.
“Technically, is it absolutely necessary? No,” he said.
But Encore does not want to be involved in a project in a town that doesn’t support it, he said.
He believes that people need time to review the details.
“We welcome rational concerns about the project,” he said. “We need to get the truth about these turbines out there.”
Farrell said he was surprised by the reaction from the Stanstead council and especially the mayor, who was so supportive. “All of a sudden, he’s taking the stance he’s taking and not allowing facts to come forward,” Farrell said.
He called some of the claims by the mayor “just out-right false” and said some claims “are nothing short of fantastic.”