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In Vermont wind debate, the breeze stiffens 

Credit:  Written by Candace Page, Free Press Staff Writer | www.burlingtonfreepress.com 7 June 2012 ~~

NEWARK – Word first came to this North­east Kingdom hill town on March 7. The eyes of a New Hampshire wind energy company had alighted on the Hawk Rock ridgeline.

Within 16 days, Newark’s planning com­mission had dispatched a letter informing Seneca Mountain Wind that a temporary wind-measuring tower on the ridge would not conform to the town plan. Within six weeks, residents had organized an opposi­tion group and begun weekly meetings.

By mid-May, more than half the town’s registered voters had signed a petition opposing the developer’s plans, which could lead to a 35­turbine wind farm in Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand.

“Getting involved early, that’s the key, we’ve been told,” said No­reen Hession, co-chairwoman of the opposition group, Newark Neigh­bors United. “My home is under attack, my way of life is under attack.

Everything I’ve worked for 20 years is at risk. ” The quick, almost visceral, response to Seneca Mountain Wind among Newark residents sends a message: Despite state policy that favors wind development, the fight over mountaintop turbines in Ver­mont may just have begun.

The Public Service Board last rejected a commercial project in 2006. Four wind farms in a row have been approved; the 16-turbine Sheffield Wind is up and running; projects in Lowell, Milton and Readsboro are under construction or have permits.

Companies are actively exploring five projects: in Newark and neighboring Brighton and Ferdinand; on Ricker Mountain in Bolton; on a Derby farm; on the Grandpa’s Knob ridge outside Rutland; and on hills in Grafton and Windham. Developers hold leases or options on other ridgelines where past plans for four or five wind projects could be revived.

Nevertheless, recent signs indicate that the path from mountain breeze to kilowatt-hours is not going to get any easier:

» In some places, as in Newark, local opponents have learned from defeats in Sheffield and Lowell. They are organizing earlier and press­ing local selectboards and planning commissions to join the opposition to protect local ridgelines. In Derby, opponents turned wind devel­opment into an international issue, with protests in Stanstead, Quebec over two turbines proposed for farmland close to Canada. As a result, Encore Redevelopment of Burlington announced late last month it was canceling one turbine and would delay permit applications for the second until 2013.

» In Rutland County, the state Agency of Natural Resources has signaled its potential opposition to a 20-turbine project on Grandpa’s Knob proposed by Reunion Power of Manchester. In a strongly word­ed letter, the agency told the company it appears the project would unduly damage the environment in ways the agency does not believe can be mitigated.

» Vermont’s electric grid also poses a challenge to wind developers in some parts of the state: In the case of the New­ark- Brighton project, the Vermont Elec­tric Power Co. has told the developer its transmission grid in the Northeast King­dom cannot accommodate more industrial wind projects without upgrades.

» The politics of wind may be shifting.

Four Northeast Kingdom senators made a bid to enact a two-year moratorium on utility-scale wind projects in April. The idea was defeated but won 11 votes in the 30-member Senate. Last month, the exec­utive committee of the Northeastern Ver­mont Development Association, the re­gion’s planning commission, recommend­ed a three-year moratorium.

Gov. Peter Shumlin remains a strong supporter of utility-scale wind develop­ment but recently added, “We don’t want wind on every mountain by any means.”

He singled out the Northeast Kingdom as a place that should not have a “dispropor­tionate amount” of wind development.

“A number of factors seem to be con­verging to slow the wind monster to a crawl,” Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said hopefully. Her group opposes utility-scale wind projects and serves as a resource for local oppo­nents.

Project developers point to polls that show a substantial majority of Vermonters – 70 percent in a recent WCAX survey – support wind turbines on ridgelines. Wind executives say they are encouraged by the Public Service Board’s willingness to ap­prove commercial wind projects and by state policies that favor renewables.

“Absolutely,” said Jack Kenworthy, CEO of the company seeking to put a wind-testing tower in Newark. “Obtaining permits is a long and expensive process, millions of dollars and multiple years.

That is not something you do with private investment dollars unless you believe there is a fair shot that a good project can get permits.”

Neighbors unite

None of the evolving factors in the wind debate – local opposition, natural resource concerns, transmission con­straints – have been sufficient in the years since 2006 to persuade the Public Service Board that the impacts of a utility­scale wind project outweigh the renew­able energy benefits it generates.

Yet all these potential objections are present, to a greater or lesser degree, in Newark. The community thus offers an­other test of whether wind developers can rebut determined opponents and over­come seemingly daunting barriers.

Newark, a community of 581, sits on a series of high hills in a remote area north of Lyndonville. Looking west from some of those hills, residents can see the turbines of Vermont’s first 21st century wind farm in neighboring Sheffield.

The eastern view from many roads is dominated by a ridge of low forested hills: Walker Mountain, Hawk Rock, Packer Mountain.

Two companies, Eolian Renewable Energy of Portsmouth, N.H., and turbine manufacturer Nordex USA, envision a line of 10 wind turbines on the ridge. Another 25 turbines would stand in a long, curving string farther east, on Seneca Mountain and adjacent hills in the towns of Ferdi­nand and Brighton, where opposition has not been as vocal.

Eolian’s proposal has supporters in Newark.

“In general I believe that it’s real im­portant to get away from fossil fuels, and wind energy is a great solution,” said law­yer Jill Mather, one of those who has spo­ken up.

So far, the two companies are seeking Public Service Board permits only for four wind-measuring towers, one of them in Newark, to supplement previously gath­ered data. It’s possible only a few months of data would be needed, Kenworthy said.

He has been clear that the companies believe a 90-megawatt wind project is possible and permittable in a few years.

That was enough for Mark Whitworth and Noreen Hession. The kitchen windows of their old farmhouse look out over gar­dens and forest to Packer Mountain less than a mile away.

“Sixty days ago, I’d never heard of any of this,” Whitworth said. “Since then, it’s been a fulltime job.”

Hession, a program manager at a high­tech Massachusetts company, began New­ark Neighbors United with Ben Bangs, a lifelong resident who mows hay, cuts wood and makes furniture for a living.

Hession and Bangs seem to have little in common but they agree on one thing: “They are going to change the charac­ter of Newark,” Bangs said of the wind developers. “So many people I talk to, at the dump, around town, say it’s not worth the money they would throw at us.”

Newark Neighbors United’s opposition has focused thus on familiar objections that so far have not convinced the Public Service Board. They include contentions – hotly disputed by wind energy sup­porters – that wind turbines create unde­sirable noise, damage people’s health and drive down nearby property values.

More than 300 people, including 189 of 359 registered Newark voters, signed Newark Neighbors United’s petition op­posing the meteorological installation, or met tower as it is called.

Group members held a low-key protest outside a Seneca Mountain information session at the town school in late May, a tactic mirrored by wind opponents in Derby and in four Rutland County towns where a Manchester developer wants to erect turbines.

“I don’t think people here would be nearly as opposed if they had not seen Sheffield and seen pictures of all the destruction in Lowell,” said Whitworth.

He was referring to photographs of construction and mountaintop clearing for Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine wind development on Lowell Mountain.

Whitworth has not joined Newark Neighbors United, though his wife is one of its leaders. He said he tries to main­tain some distance because he sits on the Newark Planning Commission.

In May, he and other commissioners voted unanimously to ask the Public Service Board not to permit Eolian’s meteorological installation, or met tower as it is called.

That is one difference between New­ark and other towns where some resi­dents have unsuccessfully opposed wind projects: In Newark, objections come from some of the town’s official voices.

State law requires the PSB to weigh whether a proposed energy project will “unduly interfere with the orderly devel­opment of the region with due consider­ation having been given to the recom­mendations of the municipal and region­al planning commissions…” Whitworth helped draft the Planning Commission’s 10-page letter to the Pub­lic Service Board, intended to rebut Eolian’s argument that its met tower fits with the town plan.

There is a conflict, the town commis­sion wrote, because the local plan begins with a vision of a “rural town with a beautiful natural setting” that the com­munity “intends to protect and pre­serve.” Eolian’s plan would interfere with orderly development by discourag­ing potential buyers from choosing New­ark land, the commission asserts.

Newark’s selectboard also is seeking a formal role in the met tower case.

“The Planning Commission doesn’t believe this fits the town plan, and we support them,” Selectboard Chairman Mike Channon said. “It’s their job to defend the town plan.”

The local debate is in its infancy. One factor that has been critical in other towns – what tax revenue the town might gain from any future wind tur­bines – is still unknown.

Hession, for one, hopes early opposi­tion in Newark might lead to early de­feat or withdrawal of Eolian’s proposal.

“I don’t want to spend the next months to five years waiting for Seneca to collect data,” she said. “I’ve already lost a lot of sleep over this.”

Transmission capacity shortage

The state Agency of Natural Re­sources and Vermont’s statewide utility, the Vermont Electric Power Co., are trying to give wind developers warning of potential barriers to development.

With Seneca Mountain Wind – and other wind projects in the wings – there is good news and potentially bad news.

As part of its long-term planning, VELCO is trying to identify places where more energy generation is needed and is compatible with the transmission grid. The northeastern corner of Ver­mont is not one of those places.

The draft of VELCO’s 2012 long-range transmission plan is unequivocal: “The northern portion of the state, where the wind generation potential is relatively high, lacks sufficient transmission to accommodate additional utility-scale generation and the addition of new util­ity- scale projects will likely require transmission reinforcements.”

VELCO spokesman Kerrick Johnson said of Eolian, “We were very clear with them: It was buyer beware. You will likely have to absorb the additional cost of transmission for your generator.”

Eolian’s Kenworthy said he is hopeful a study by ISO-New England, the region­al transmission organization, will find ways to “alleviate some of the transmis­sion constraints.”

ANR issues early warnings

“It is unclear at this time if your pro­posal, or any landscape-scale devel­opment, could proceed at this site with­out posing undue adverse impact on the natural environment,” the Agency of Natural Resources wrote to the devel­opers of Seneca Mountain Wind in April. Senior Planner Bill Coster cited pos­sible impacts on streams, wetlands and conservation lands. Seneca Mountain lies inside the state’s second largest habitat block, a relatively unfragmented forest rich in flora and fauna.

Kenworthy, the Eolian CEO, said it is his company’s “current view that we can build a project without undue adverse impacts, and that the benefits would outweigh the impacts.”

“I wouldn’t call this a red flag,” Cos­ter said. The agency needs more in­formation, he said. Instead, the letter is part of the agen­cy’s effort to alert developers early in the permit process to potential permit­ting roadblocks.

Early review led the agency to a much sterner stance in the case of the Grandpa’s Knob proposal for up to 20 turbines along several miles of ridgeline west of Rutland.

That set of hills has “exceptional ecological significance,” agency lawyer Jon Groveman wrote to Reunion Power of Manchester. Because of its location at the northern end of the Taconics, the area provides “an anchor for helping to maintain ecological connectivity in both east-west and north-south directions.”

“ANR does not see a way to effective­ly mitigate the undue adverse effects on the Rare and Irreplaceable Natural Area and on the natural environment in gener­al,” Groveman wrote.

Reunion Power CEO Steve Eisenberg emphasized that his company hasn’t developed a final site plan for turbines and roadways, nor completed its envi­ronmental studies of the ridge.

“I understand the arguments and appreciate the points about connectiv­­ity,” he said. “Looking at what we know today, we are hopeful this project will be something we can go forward with.”

Coster said the agency hopes to make a map giving wind developers a way to screen potential locations by making an inventory of natural resources.

“This is not a wind map, it’s not a red light/green light of where wind projects should happen or not happen, but it is the most exhaustive inventory to date,” he said. “It is an initial screen for devel­opers about which areas will and will not be difficult to permit.”

Why the fight goes on

Ben Bangs and Noreen Hession climbed through a field of grass, high on a hill behind the house where Bangs’ parents have lived for 43 years. The late afternoon sun set the distant Hawk Rock ridgeline aglow.

The state’s new natural resource map will inform wind developers where rare plants grow, where Canada lynx prowl, where little headwater streams rise in the hills.

What cannot be charted on any map is the intensity of neighbors’ response when wind developers come to town.

The map can’t predict whether wind energy will be embraced by a town ma­jority, as it was in Lowell, or provoke widespread opposition.

No map can capture what it is about the unbroken mountain landscape that people see and value and are willing to fight for years to defend.

Bangs thinks about Center Pond, a quiet place where loons sometimes call and schoolchildren use nature trails on town land.

“When you are at Center Pond, you don’t hear anything except birds singing and brooks running,” he said. He wor­ries that turbine blades turning on the ridgeline above will destroy the quiet.

“There’s no silence anymore,” he said. “Before, I was not as against these things as I am now. We are net exporters of power up here. They won’t shut any power plants if this is built. Is it worth destroying these ridgelines for that?”



Here’s a look at the status of past, present and potential future wind energy projects on Vermont mountains: OPERATING: Searsburg: Searsburg Wind (Green Mountain Power, Colchester) 11 turbines, 6 megawatts Sheffield: Sheffield Wind (First Wind, Bos­ton), 16 turbines, 40 megawatts

UNDER CONSTRUCTION Lowell: Kingdom Community Wind (Green Mountain Power) 21 turbines, 63 megawatts Milton: Georgia Mountain Community Wind (Georgia Mountain LLC) 4 turbines, 10 megawatts

PERMITTED: Searsburg, Readsboro: Deer­field Wind (Iberdrola Renewable), 15 tur­bines, 30 megawatts. Public Service Board approved. Permit from the Green Mountain National Forest under appeal by opponents.


• Brighton, Newark, Ferdi­nand: Seneca Mountain Wind (Eolian Re­newable Energy, Nordex USA), up to 35 turbines, 90 megawatts

&bull Pittsford, Castleton, West Rutland, Hub­bardton: Grandpa’s Knob (Reunion Power, Manchester 20 turbines, 50 megawatts)

&bull Derby: Davis Farm (Encore Redevelopment, Burlington) 1 turbine, 2.2 megawatts. Devel­oper dropped plans for a second turbine on the Chase farm in the face of strong opposi­tion in Derby and Stanstead, Quebec.

&bull Grafton, Windham: Unnamed ridges (Iber­drola Renewables), size unknown, plans to seek permit for wind measuring towers

&bull Bolton: Ricker Mountain (Green Mountain Clean Energy). Permission granted for wind­measuring towers.


&bull East Haven: East Mountain wind farm (Matthew Rubin) 4 turbines, 6 megawatts. Application rejected by Public Service Board, 2006. Rubin still owns the mountaintop but says he is in “developer’s hibernation” for the moment.

&bull Manchester: Manchester Wind Farm (End­less Energy, Yarmouth, Maine) 8 turbines, 24 megawatts. Ridgeline lease in place, no current plans.

&bull Eden: Unnamed ridge (BNE Energy): Compa­ny hold option to buy land on the ridgeline, has collected wind data, met tower re­moved. Company president Greg Zupkus says he has no immediate plans for devel­opment

&bull Londonderry: Glebe Mountain (Catamount Energy, Marubeni Power International). Project cancelled, June 2006. Developers cited local opposition.

&bull Ira, Poultney, West Rutland: Vermont Com­munity Wind Farm (Per Anderson). 20-40 turbines, plans cancelled.

Source:  Written by Candace Page, Free Press Staff Writer | www.burlingtonfreepress.com 7 June 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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