Leaders of the Northeast Kingdom’s regional planning commission want to investigate some of the thorniest questions about industrial-sized wind projects.
What are the health risks? Why is this kind of ridgeline development allowed? Are there less controversial, less intrusive alternatives? Are industrial-sized wind turbines worth it?
The executive committee of the board of Northeastern Vermont Development Association wants board approval to tackle these complex issues that fire up opponents, anger proponents and developers, and leave those without skin in the game just plain confused.
NVDA’s leaders want to ask the state to suspend the approval of industrial wind projects for three years to allow NVDA time to do the study. The board will vote June 28 on the resolution at its quarterly meeting.
Anyone who has followed the wind debate in the NEK has heard so much conflicting information that even those who support wind energy want the proposed wind projects to go away so everyone can calm down a little.
It appears that NVDA executives have decided that the Vermont Legislature and state utility regulators aren’t making decisions about wind projects necessarily with the best interests of the NEK in mind.
Arguments about health and environmental impacts, aesthetics and other impacts are being heard by regulators whose job it is to make sure that energy projects are developed according to legislative intent, and then to approve them.
The regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board were not given the task of figuring out if the NEK and its special rural character is the right place for wind projects.
NVDA executives want to know what the cost of more industrial wind projects would be for the NEK, versus the benefits.
Do wind project jobs and the production of intermittent electricity that is supplemented by natural gas power plants in southern New England outweigh the visual impact?
Is there an accepted way to compare property value impacts here to elsewhere?
Developers say there is proof that there is no impact on property values. Opponents say there is proof of impact. Who’s right? NVDA could find out.
Some big wind opponents cite reports about the impact on health of living or just standing near enough to a wind turbine to experience pressure waves, never mind the sound or the shadow flicker effect.
Developers and supporters say those problems are caused by poor installation, picking the wrong turbine for the location, bad judgment in siting the turbines or other factors.
NVDA could find out what independent national and international health research shows about wind projects.
Some places, like in Quebec, have limited how close a wind turbine can be sited to a home. NVDA could find out if Vermont should have such a limit.
Some opponents say the distance should be two miles. Neighbors of proposed projects read about studies online and are scared. Developers talk in hundreds of feet and say it depends on the lay of the land and the season and other sounds in the area.
NVDA could push for a Vermont solution.
Developers say that some mountains are better for wind turbines than others. Energy leaders, like Dave Hallquist of Vermont Electric Cooperative, say ridgeline turbines are much better producers of electricity than those sited below in more developed areas – which then are closer to people and homes.
People in the NEK say “put the turbines on Lake Champlain.” Would Camel’s Hump be a proper home for turbines?
People in Derby say “put the turbines on the ridgelines,” away from homes.
Yet Vermonters like green energy.
Is there a proper location for wind turbines, other than just relying on wind speed and consistency and access to transmission lines. NVDA executive committee members want to know if the 248 process “provides comparable environmental protections … when it comes to development of ridgelines.”
What other green energy sources would do the trick? NVDA could find out.
One of the problems with understanding how wind projects are approved lies with how permits are granted.
Under state law, energy projects are all considered by the Public Service Board under the 248 process. Energy projects are not treated like any other developments, which go before regional environmental commissions for review under Act 250.
Jay Peak Resort officials had to present their most recent expansion plans to the District 7 Environmental Commission for review – but that happened at a hearing in Jay, where the neighbors had a chance to listen and make comment about the proposal. Even the state’s largest landfill in Coventry, arguably of statewide importance, went before the Act 250 commission.
Down the road in Lowell, the Lowell wind project didn’t go before the Act 250 commission.
It was heard by the Public Service Board. Area residents got to make comments to a hearing officer. But the hearings were held in Montpelier under a rigid court-like setting. The real arguments are made by attorneys and experts in briefs and reply briefs and appeals. The facts cited aren’t aired in the same way, in a local public setting.
Opponents who participated were disappointed at how limited their impact at the hearings were.
NEK senators sought but weren’t successful in getting a moratorium on wind projects. Perhaps a short-term moratorium with intent to study “big wind” and resolve some of the factual inconsistencies would make sense to the majority of senators who didn’t favor lowering the boom on wind projects completely.
The Legislature did that with hydro-fracking, the cracking of deep rock to drill for trapped natural gas.
Some in the NEK would like the legislators in the rest of the state to see what the intense debate about big wind is doing to this area, and give NVDA a chance to find out what big wind’s impact would be.
In three years, the Lowell wind project probably would be operating and maybe a turbine will be sitting on a farm field ridge in Derby. Along with Sheffield, that would give NVDA plenty of home-based impact to study.
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