WINDHAM – With a possible wind power project in the works, officials, experts and residents spent more than two hours Wednesday night debating the pros and cons of commercial turbines.
But for many who packed in to this town’s small schoolhouse, the discussion comes down to one important point: Windham residents don’t want wind turbines, and they’ve already said so by voting overwhelmingly to enact a ban.
“We would like the governor to know that unequivocally,” said Mary Boyer, who chairs Windham’s Select Board. “We would ask the governor how he expects the fourth-smallest town in the 49th-smallest state to advocate for ourselves against a multinational corporation with more than $40 billion in revenues.”
Or, as one resident put it: “This town’s already fought this war. Why the hell are you trying to bring it back again?”
At issue is a proposal from Iberdrola Renewables to place three meteorological testing towers on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. Two towers would be in Windham, while the other would be situated in Grafton.
Iberdrola representatives – operating as Atlantic Wind LLC – have said they intend to apply to the Vermont Public Service Board for a certificate of public good for the testing towers. The decision will be made by the state, but officials have said local opinions and
restrictions will be considered.
If the testing towers are erected and provide favorable data, that could pave the way for development of Windham County’s first commercial wind turbines at what would be called Stiles Brook Wind Project.
But Jenny Briot, a senior business developer for Iberdrola Renewables, told the crowd that there is no such proposal at this point.
“We are in the very early stage of just finding out whether or not there is a wind resource at this site,” Briot said.
Nonetheless, she and two Meadowsend representatives took a verbal beating Wednesday night. They sat at one end of a long table; at the other end were two vocal wind power opponents who had been invited to speak by the Windham Select Board.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, gave a detailed presentation contending that large commercial turbines have a negative impact on aesthetics, aviation, the environment, wildlife and public access to ridges.
She also said the turbines “do collapse, and they do catch fire.”
Smith added that wind projects have little financial benefit for local residents or town governments.
For corporations, “the profits on these projects are very large, and that’s really what this is all about,” she said.
Taking a similar stance was Luke Snelling of the non-profit Energize Vermont. He argued that turbines have “a monster amount of impact” but produce little environmental benefit.
Snelling advocated instead for greater energy efficiency and for expansion of solar power.
“We just don’t need wind to meet our renewable-energy goals,” Snelling said.
His presentation drew applause from the standing-room-only crowd. But there also was some empathy for Meadowsend, with one resident saying “there’s a lot of support for you guys in the community.”
The company owns 5,000 acres in the proposed wind-testing area. Meadowsend Managing Forester Jeremy Turner said he has been overseeing the property since he was in college.
But he added that the company needs to diversify its business in order to maintain and conserve its holdings, which cover 32,000 acres in Vermont and New Hampshire.
Turner acknowledged that “these are big choices that are here in Vermont” in terms of the debate over wind power and other energy sources.
“That’s why we’re asking some of the best people in the business to tell us what our options are,” he said.
Iberdrola has said that the 197-foot-tall testing towers – if they’re approved by the state – will have no permanent foundation, will require no large-scale timber clearing and will not be lit.
For installation, “we have decided to use the existing access roads to the best extent possible,” Briot said.
But it’s the specter of much larger wind turbines that seemed to loom over Wednesday’s meeting. Boyer started her closing remarks by producing two models showing the possible size of a turbine compared with the height of the town’s meeting house.
She pointed out that the town’s wind power ban stems from clear opposition to an earlier proposal to place turbines on Glebe Mountain.
“The numbers of people who expressed in writing their opposition to industrial-scale wind in Windham were overwhelming: 287 to 15,” Boyer said. “The current town plan is the embodiment of that expression of informed, collective opinion.”
She urged residents to discuss the matter further and to do their own research.
“Go back to your families and your neighbors and tell them that Windham wants to start another conversation where, rather than just saying ‘no’ to big wind, we talk about the things we can say ‘yes’ to,” Boyer said.
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