At first glance, the website looks like the real thing – an announcement, complete with visual simulation, of a multi-turbine wind farm looming large on the waters of Lake Champlain.
“Twenty to 40 turbines… powering 80,000 homes in Chittenden County … payments of more than $1 million to area towns,” the website, www.champlainwindpark.com, promises.
The site looks so real some Burlington Electric Department employees wondered for a moment whether they were out of the loop on a wind proposal in the city’s backyard.
Champlain Wind Park is a figment of Annette Smith’s imagination, created to suggest that Chittenden County residents should consider what it would mean to have windmills – 450 feet high to the top of their turning blades – in their backyard.
Smith leads Vermonters for a Clean Environment, and is a dedicated opponent of wind energy projects on the state’s mountaintops. She believes industrial wind turbines damage human health and wreck the ridgeline environment. That conclusion is challenged by wind developers and has not prevailed with the state Public Service Board, which has permitted four utility-scale ridgetop wind farms.
“Chittenden County – that’s where the majority of people in favor of windpower live. It’s not in their backyard, they don’t have to look at it or live with it, they just get power from Burlington Electric,” she said.
The city electric department buys 16 megawatts of power from a new wind development in Sheffield, about 40 percent of the project’s output. BED will buy all the power, 10 megawatts, from a wind development going up on Georgia Mountain in Milton and is considering a 15 megawatt purchase from a proposed wind farm on Grandpa’s Knob outside Rutland.
“This is part of our commitment to our clean energy future,” BED spokesman Mary Sullivan said. “We like to buy local, we like to buy renewable and wind really fits into our large power portfolio.”
Reaction to Champlain Wind Park might not be exactly what Smith hoped. The first email she received through a link on the website came from a utility company employee who applauded the idea of putting turbines on the lake.
Sullivan, too, said “I personally would be fine provided a wind project on the lake was economically viable.” She noted that BED does generate power in its own backyard, at the McNeil biomass plant in the Burlington Intervale.
Landscape architect Julie Campoli had a different reaction, saying the fake website may not accurately portray how large turbines in the lake would look from the waterfront, a point Smith concedes.
“Images are very powerful,” Campoli, a supporter of wind energy, said. “What I got from the picture was that the turbines are enormous – the photograph is so negative. It’s not necessarily accurate. I was concerned it could influence how people feel about wind turbines.”
Smith said she hopes that is exactly what happens.
“I hope the website makes people stop and think and go and do their homework, and see what the issues are with wind,” she said.
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