WEST RUTLAND – Pam Sokol does not want an industrial wind project in her backyard.
The West Rutland resident spoke out during an informational Select Board meeting with the developers of a 20-turbine wind farm on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline Monday night.
“I own 44-acres just under where you are putting the project,” Sokol said to the developer Reunion Power. “Mr. Eisenberg, I don’t want you in my backyard. Please accept that.”
Steve Eisenberg, managing director of Reunion Power, spoke before the Select Board and a packed auditorium at the West Rutland Town Hall, providing basic information about the company’s proposed $100 million wind farm. But the reception from residents was anything but welcoming.
Protesters gathered outside of the West Rutland Town Hall prior to the meeting holding signs that read “Don’t Sell Us Out,” and “No Industrial Wind Mill” while resident and concerned people voiced their disapproval of the project.
A miscommunication between town officials and the developers had the meeting starting a half an hour late, which some residents called “disrespectful.”
Christie Wright of Florence said several weeks ago, town officials asked residents to do their research and get the facts to bring before the developers. She said she is one of the people who “changed her mind” about wind projects.
“These are not efficient,” Wright said. “Would you sacrifice our mountains and life for 19 percent efficient?”
The company with offices in Manchester is proposing a wind farm with up to 20 turbines that would produce at most 50 megawatts of energy. It would be located just south of Grandpa’s Knob to Biddie Knob in the towns of West Rutland, Hubbardton, Castleton and Pittsford. They have partnered with Nordex USA.
The turbines would be 300- to 328-foot towers with three blades between 160 to 188 feet. The project would be interconnected to the VELCO substation in West Rutland.
“In our minds, this is a significant generation facility, but not huge,” Eisenberg said. “It is not clear blasting of the ridgeline.”
Eisenberg told residents they are completing environmental studies, in negotiations with local utilities and should be completing the project layout with turbine, road and transmission line locations “very soon.” He also touched on the process for filing with the Vermont Public Service Board, affects to property value and the company’s preliminary meetings with the Agency of Natural Resources.
“The board has a very rigorous process they go through. The entire process can be at least a year, but can go longer in some cases,” Eisenberg said.
Florence resident Lisa Garcia questioned why they should place more validity in studies done by the company and raised concerns about the position of the state Agency of Natural Resources.
In a recent letter sent by ANR to Josh Brown, a project consultant with TRC Solutions, the agency’s general counsel Jon Groveman said ANR maintains that the ridgeline has “exceptional ecological values” and that an industrial wind farm will result in “an undue adverse effect on the natural environment that cannot be mitigated.”
“The ridgeline is the most sensitive portion of this habitat block and it is unlikely that the roads and turbines can be moved to the margins of the habitat block (off the ridgeline) and still access the wind resource.”
Eisenberg said they do not understand ANR’s ranking system for natural habitat blocks, adding they have not done specific surveys in the area with the exception of bats and that to them it seems the large blocks of private-owned land ranks very high. He said the agency does not have in-depth details of the habitat species on the ridgeline and the company pressed the agency for more information.
“We have done more surveys than ANR. We have been collecting more information that ANR,” said Timothy Vought, senior project development manager with Nordex.
Reunion Power has not made any formal proposals to the hosts towns and hope to file with for a certificate of public good from the service board at the end of the year. They hope to begin construction in 2014.
The next meetings with Reunion Power are on May 21 in Castleton and May 24 in Pittsford.
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