While the practical effect of their action remains unclear, regional planners in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom have spoken with a nearly unanimous voice: It’s time to slow down wind energy development on their forested ridgelines.
The vote for a three-year wind energy moratorium was 36-3 Thursday night at a meeting of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, the regional planning agency for Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties.
The group does not have the authority to impose the moratorium. Each proposed project is reviewed by the state Public Service Board. Among the factors it considers, however, is whether a development complies with regional and town plans.
“Small towns up here are feeling overwhelmed,” board Chairman Kenn Stransky of Norton said Friday. He cited the example of a 35-turbine wind project recently proposed for ridgelines in Newark, Ferdinand and Brighton.
“We keep hearing over and over that the cards are stacked against small towns,” Stransky said. He said towns with volunteer selectboards and no staff legal counsel struggle to respond when “these huge corporations come in with teams of lawyers and lobbyists.”
Commercial, ridgeline wind projects have divided residents of Vermont’s most rural corner. Voters in Sheffield and Lowell, where construction is completed or under way, supported turbine development. One town, Sutton, voted against wind development several years ago, and sentiment has been running against the turbines in Newark.
The moratorium – which Stransky said he expected to be incorporated into the energy section of the regional plan which is being rewritten – calls for a delay of three years while the planning group evaluates the costs and benefits of wind development, health impacts, transmission requirements, effects on ridgetop environments and impact on property values.
Principals of Eolian Energy of Portsmouth, N.H., proposers of the Newark/Ferdinand project, did not return telephone calls.
The vote drew an immediate response from Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade group. Executive Director Gabrielle Stebbins blamed the divisiveness of wind energy development on “misinformation and fear that is spread by that misinformation.”
She said her group is eager to make the case for wind energy to regional planners. Other states and countries are pursuing wind energy, she wrote in a press release, adding, “Let’s not miss our chance.”
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