WINDHAM – Residents did not roll out the welcome mat to wind developer Iberdrola Renewables, which wants to put up three wind-measuring towers on a ridgeline that stretches from Windham to Grafton and Townshend.
The so-called “met” or meteorological towers were viewed as the thin edge of a wedge by many at the meeting Wednesday, as questions focused on the 450-foot wind turbine towers, rather than the three smaller 198-foot measuring towers.
The informational meeting saw competing presentations from Iberdrola Renewables of Spain; Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., a New London, N.H. forestry company that has owned the 5,000-acre parcel for the last 16 years; and two groups opposed to large-scale wind development.
Both Vermonters for a Clean Environment and Energize Vermont, critics of wind power projects, were invited to the session by the Windham Select Board.
But the strong undercurrent during Wednesday’s standing-room-only meeting at the Windham Elementary School was that the town had rejected wind development before and nothing had changed many minds in the past six years.
Mary Boyer, chairwoman of the Select Board, noted the town – in a 2006 nonbinding survey – had voiced overwhelming opposition to the so-called Glebe Mountain project, which would have been on a different ridgeline, but one shared by Windham and Londonderry. The survey was 287-15 against the project.
The Glebe Mountain project was eventually dropped by its developer, Catamount Energy.
Boyer urged the 150 people Wednesday to maintain a sense of community and not fall prey to the anger and divisiveness that has plagued other Vermont towns facing wind development, particularly small towns in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
Boyer said that as a result of the 2006 survey, the Windham town plan was written to essentially ban industrial wind development in the small, mountainous town.
And the town knows a lot more about siting wind development, she said.
“The Select Board is committed to avoiding in Windham the kind of bitter, divisive quarrelling that has torn apart so many other communities in Vermont over projects like this,” she said. “We will do everything in our power to continue a civil and fact-based dialogue.”
“Commercial-scale wind projects such as the one being considered for proposal by Iberdrola and Meadowsend are not a permitted use of our forested areas,” said Boyer.
“We would like the governor to know that unequivocally. 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?” she asked.
Meadowsend, a family-owned forestry company, got high marks as a good neighbor from the people at the meeting. Meadowsend owns 45 woodlots in Vermont, a total of 32,000 acres, and it manages an additional 30,000 acres for others, according to Jeremy Turner, a Meadowsend forester.
Steve French, one of the Meadowsend owners, compared putting up the met towers to someone starting a blueberry farm, but testing the soil first.
But Iberdrola, which is the developer behind the Deerfield Wind Project in Searsburg and Readsboro, and one of the largest wind developers in the world, was met with skepticism.
Jenny Briot with Iberdrola said that if Windham voted against a wind project, the company would respect the town’s wishes.
But Briot and other Iberdrola officials at the meeting said opposition was premature, because all they were seeking was permission to put up three wind towers to measure the wind.
Briot invited town leaders to a tour of Iberdrola’s operating wind facility in Lempster, N.H.
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment and Lukas Snelling of Energize Vermont warned townspeople to be wary of commercial wind development.
Smith, who has been working closely with wind opponents in several Northeast Kingdom towns, said the towers bring noise problems, negative effects on wildlife, and destruction of formerly undeveloped ridgelines.
Snelling said solar development was much more friendly to the environment and the Vermont way of life.
And both Smith and Snelling said the environmental benefits of wind were overstated, and heavily dependent on federal tax subsidies.
Residents asked about the impact on property values, since many consider the 450-foot-tall wind turbine towers an eyesore. The tall towers have to be lit at night out of safety concerns.
Boyer said the town would research the issue of declining property values.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding