A wind farm proposal on a ridgeline that includes the Grandpa’s Knob peak is drawing fire from many local residents.
Opponents say the 50-megawatt project in Pittsford, Hubbardton, West Rutland and Castleton would hurt the region’s wildlife, ruin its scenic beauty and threaten tourism at an important historic battlefield. It’s also dividing neighbors and some families.
Allen Mills’ back door opens onto a valley that is jaw-droppingly beautiful. He smiles proudly and says the Pittsford farm has been in his family for five generations.
“Grandpa’s Knob of course is right through this steep ravine here,” he says pointing west. “And it sits on top of the mountain there. And this is almost the geographic center of the Pittsford Ridge. When you see this valley at the base of the ridge … I think of it as a cathedral of the Pittsford ridge.” Mills voice cracks, “To think that it could be changed because of this is totally absurd.”
Reunion Power, a Manchester-based company, wants to put up 20 turbines along the ridge, each about 500 feet tall.
Steve Eisenberg, Reunion’s managing director, says the project would generate 4 permanent jobs as well as provide a significant boost to the local economy during construction of the $100 million project.
Once on line, he says the turbines would generate 50 megawatts of “cost free” renewable power – enough for 15,000 households.
But Sonny and Shelley Poremski, whose 200-acre farm is just up the road from Allen Mills’, scoff at the idea of wind power being cost free.
“I mean we’re the ones who have to deal with this,” says Sonny. “Once they’re up, Mr. Eisenberg is going to put his check in the bank and he’s going to live happily ever after. He has no connection with the real people here. He doesn’t know what we’re going to be dealing with. And it’s going to divide this town. It’s friends, relatives, neighbors, everybody.”
His wife Shelley nods and says, “For us I think, in particular, it’s difficult. Because my husband’s grandfather on one side is the one who bought this property and we’ve kept it as he bought it. And his grandfather on his other side, that family has sold out the top of their mountain. So it’s divided our family exactly in half.” Shelley Poremski says “This family has been here for almost 100 years and has celebrated every event together. But,” she says, “this is one event we can’t celebrate.”
Last week, more than 150 people packed the Hubbardton fire station to hear officials from Reunion Power outline their plans.
Steve Eisenberg said the ridgeline is well suited for the project because of steady winds and its close proximity to transmission lines. He also touted the historic nature of the site – noting that Grandpa’s Knob was where the nation’s first ever-commercial wind turbine was built back in 1941.
But longtime Hubbardton resident Elizabeth Sumner was more concerned about a different kind of history. The Hubbardton Battlefield from the Revolutionary War is nearby.
“How ironic,” said Sumner, “two days ago we were celebrating Memorial Day. I wonder, what about the battlefield? Do we not have some concern about how they will now be closed in endless sound, which we haven’t measured. We don’t know what the sound is. I don’t know if I can still live where I live,” she said. “My property is adjacent to the battlefield. So please tell me why do we need this?
At that point, the crowd erupted in applause.
But it’s not just local residents who have expressed concerns. The Agency of Natural Resources says the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline provides vital links for wildlife movement and is an important anchor for rare plants.
With the added environmental pressures caused by global warming, agency analysts say wind development in the area is a bad idea.
But Dr. Alan Betts, a Pittsford resident who studies climate change, takes a different view. Because of global warming, he believes Vermont should do all it can to promote renewable energy development, including wind power projects like this one.
“I know a lot about the technology. I’ve looked at the turbines that have been put up in Europe and Denmark. And so,” says Betts, “my original reaction is one of optimism because this is a local power source that we can put along a ridgeline that has good resources. It has good access to north-south power line that runs by the Omya plant. So my opinion was favorable. I would like to see these wind turbines across the valley from my house.”
Reunion Power says it has to do more studies before it will be able to submit an official proposal and seek approval from the Public Service Board.
In the meantime, there will be more public meetings and more heated debate on the project in the weeks and months to come.
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