Reunion Power (RP) has been to the towns of Castleton, Hubbardton, Pittsford and West Rutland to present its plan to install 16 to 20 industrial wind turbines on the Taconic Range from just south of Grandpa’s Knob extending north into Pittsford. These 500 foot tall turbines would also be visible to people in Proctor, Rutland City and Rutland Town. Steven Eisenberg of RP began his presentation stating, “Wind power is good and is needed.” Later in the presentation he stated this has to be weighed against any, “undue adverse impacts.”
Is this proposed project good? The major good claimed is the effect on global warming as wind power generates electricity without producing CO2. Electricity production accounts for only 4% of Vermont’s total CO2 production. VT has an average electricity demand of 800 MW. The RP proposal is for up to 50 MW of capacity. Because of wind variability, a Capacity Factor of 32% is used to yield an average production of 16 MW. The 16 MW would be 2% of the 800 MW needed. A little math tells us the proposed project will decrease VT’s total CO2 production by only 0.08%; nearly nothing.
Do we need more electricity and, therefore, need this project? At a recent VELCO meeting, CEO Dutton stated there is a glut of electricity across all of New England and that there was an abundance of electricity prior to the beginning of the recession in 2008. VELCO predicts the Vermont demand for electricity will increase by only 0.5% per year for the next 20 years. Because of the abundance, electricity is also relatively cheap and with the slow growth in demand is predicted to stay cheap for quite some time. ISO-NE manages the distribution of electricity through the grid for all of New England. It has access to 33,000 MW of electrical generation. ISO-NE has an average demand of 22,000 MW and anticipates a peak demand this summer of 27,500 MW. It is good to have some excess capacity. ISO-NE believe a peak excess capacity of 2000 MW is sufficient to cover for potential plant down times. We do not need a peak demand excess capacity of 5500 MW. We do not need RP’s addition 16 MW.
What about adverse impacts? There are the immediate effects during the construction phase and long term effects while the turbines are operating. The plan is for 20 years of operation. Much blasting will be needed to reshape the ridge line to form large access and ridge line roads to accommodate the huge crane and the many oversized delivery trucks. There will be problems with high level wetlands, rare species protection and storm water run-off. Longer term, bat and bird populations will be affected with deaths resulting from impacts with the turbine blades. Migration patterns of large animals and birds may be affected. Small animals, birds and insects may move related to the noise level. This would result in a modification of the ridge line ecosystem. There will be immeasurable impacts on the Hubbardton Battlefield historical site.
Effects on humans are largely related to noise. Vermont uses a noise level standard of up to 45 decibels outside a home as safe. Many European countries have adopted lower noise level standards. Denmark sets 39 decibels and Germany sets 35 decibels as their safety levels. Research has demonstrated that wind turbine noise is more of a problem in mountainous regions where sound can echo up and down the valleys. The major side effect for those experiencing noise is sleep deprivation and its long term effects on mental and emotional function, development of sleep disorders, weight gain or loss and blood pressure. Other potential health effects may relate to sound that is not heard or only weakly heard. This is low frequency noise while not being heard can cause cardiac arrhythmias, vertigo, nausea, diarrhea and headaches.
Vermont is the state that banned billboards as obtrusive and inconsistent with Vermont values. To look at that ridge in all its natural beauty gives a sense of peace, strength and permanence. It provides great comfort and solace. The current radio tower on Grandpa’s Knob is 310 feet high. The proposed industrial wind turbines will be 492 feet to the top of the turbine blade. The rotor will be 328 feet in diameter. Imagine 16 to 20 of those towers there for the next 20 years. Those turbines will not be an innocuous thing we will “get use to”. The ridge will no longer be there to provide us comfort and solace. It will be there every day to remind us of our folly.
In order to accept this proposed project we need to be confident this project is needed; there is significant good provided; human health will not be affected; birds, plants, animals and insects will not be significantly affected; our significant historic sites will not be affected; and that we will not lose the beauty of our ridge. None of this is true.
With no demonstrated need, very little good, impacts on historic sites and serious concern over many, many harmful human and environmental effects this project cannot be viewed favorably.
Dr. James N. Rademacher lives in Pittsford.
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