You’d think that, by now, developers of potential industrial wind projects would be daunted. The first one proposed in the Northeast Kingdom, in East Haven, was never approved. The one in Sheffield is up and running but it took years of court battles to get there. The Lowell project won’t likely be tied up in court for that long, but it certainly has entailed its own battles, including protests and even arrests.
And now, at the very preliminary stage of trying to get a permit for meteorological towers to provide information on the amount of wind, Eolian Renewable Energy is facing a formidably organized populace. A group called Newark Neighbors United has at least 300 signatures on a petition opposing the project. That’s 300 out of an adult resident population of 492 in the town of Newark.
But if the fellows from Eolian are daunted, they certainly weren’t showing it at an open house in Island Pond last week. Instead, they appeared to have been avid students of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Win Friends and Influence People.
Maps, information, cookies, and drinks were available for those who came to the very casual open house, which offered no presentation, no formal question and answer session. The project developers cheerily greeted people at the door.
It was a civil event where the questions someone might want to ask were asked one-on-one, and any objections had to be lodged face-to-face. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity for confrontation, no “us and them.”
What Eolian and its partner, Nordex USA, are proposing is the biggest wind project yet in Vermont. At the moment, they’re thinking it would produce up to 90 megawatts of power from about 35 wind turbines that would be located in Newark, Brighton, and Ferdinand.
Seneca Mountain Wind, LLC, the technical developer, was formed by Eolian and Nordex specifically for this project.
“We are in the early stages of project evaluation and development and there are still many questions that need to be answered before we can present a detailed project plan,” says a letter aimed at residents who might be affected by the project. “While we don’t have all of the project specifics today, we are committed to doing the appropriate scientific studies so that we can fully understand the site specific information about the wind resource and existing environmental characteristic to ensure that any future development will bring substantial benefits to the host communities and Vermont.
Wind development is not without impacts, and we recognize that change can bring concerns, but we ask you to remember that wind energy development also has very substantial benefits.”
Among those benefits, Seneca Mountain Wind says in the letter, is that, based on the size of the project, it anticipates contributing about $1-million annual in taxes and contractual payments across the three towns, collectively, for the life of the project.
The letter goes on to say that the project would likely include 150-200 construction jobs and about 25 full-time permanent jobs.
The men from Eolian are young and talk about their project, and wind power in general, with some idealism, although scratch a little and it’s clear they are well aware of the battles they could face.
John Soininen, vice-president of development for Eolian, owns a house in Sheffield. “I watched that nine-year battle,” he said, acknowledging that, while some might think that state permitting is a given, it’s highly likely that conflict is too. In fact, a member of Newark Neighbors United was posted a the front door of the town hall asking people if they knew about the organization and would like to register opposition to the wind project.
However, Mr. Soininen said he believes opponents to industrial wind power are a minority – a very vocal minority who have pulled out the pitchforks and tomatoes, he said, but a minority nonetheless.
Mr. Soinenen likes to talk about the virtues of wind power. There are only so many sources of energy. In his view, wind is among the cleanest an least destructive.
The letter to residents says that all of the property under consideration is private property without any conservation restrictions and most of it has a history of previous impact as former Champion timberlands.
“Historical uses of the property are likely to continue unimpeded and SMW has no plans to restrict access for hunting, snowmobiling, or other recreational uses,” the letter says.
It also says that the site has “a substantial network of existing roads that can be utilized by the project to minimize future environmental impacts. ”Eolian has gone to great lengths to address concerns that have been raised time and again about previous wind projects, and it’s offering to take people on a wind farm tour so they can personally assess the noise and what a wind farm looks like.
Blasting, they say, is common with industrial wind development. Although some roads exist in the area they’re looking at, blasting is certainly not out of the question.
There will also be noise. Mr. Soininen does not claim the turbines are silent, although he gives no credence to reports that the noise from the Sheffield wind turbines is so loud that it can be heard from inside busy homes.
Mr. Soininen said the one thing that really bothers him about wind projects are the blinking red lights that are necessary so planes don’t fly into the towers.
“SMW is committed to using a radar-activated lighting solution (which keeps the lights off unless low flying plane are nearby at night) as long as the technology is approved by the FAA and is commercially available for the project,” the letter to residents says.
The developers say field studies are currently being conducted that include the following: Studies on wetlands and vernal pools, rare plants, birds, acoustic bat surveys, habitat assessments, and wildlife use of the property.
“While we acknowledge that turbines do have impacts, we work hard to reduce these impacts and we want your help to focus on maximizing the benefits to your community,” the letter says. “There are a lot of unfounded claims out there. Please take the time to seek out scientific information about the issues that are important to you and don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions you have.”
Seneca Mountain Wind representatives urge people to visit their website at www.seneca- wind.com, e-mail them directly at seneca@eolian- energy.com, or call Travis Bullard or Mr. Soininen at (603) 570-4842.