I’ve been watching the progress of Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain Wind Project from my kitchen window for some time now. Our farm is on Buck Hill in Westfield, across the valley from the Lowell Mountains. It looks like the massive crane is putting the blades on the sixth turbine this morning.
We’ve have a 75-foot-tall 35kw Vestas wind turbine with 25-foot blades here on our farm since 2005. It seemed so large when we installed it seven years ago. It seems pretty small and inconsequential in comparison to what is being erected across the valley right now. Our wind turbine feeds back into the local grid and runs our electric meter backwards. In a good windy winter month like December or January, it can provide up to half of the 6,000 kilowatts that we use on our dairy farm and yogurt plant. Our windmill isn’t trouble free, but I love it nonetheless. It’s very windy on this hilltop and it feels so good to put this natural force that buffets us to work.
We have friends and neighbors who support and who oppose the big industrial wind project here in our neighborhood. I have purposely stayed out of the fray, but have decided that I must speak out. I don’t mind looking across the valley at these giant windmills. As a matter of fact, they seem beautiful and graceful to me. However, I am saddened by the environmental degradation that was necessary to make this project possible. Several weekends ago, I flew over the Lowell Mountains in a friend’s airplane and got to see the site from above. There is now a major road and large clearings on four and a half miles of the spine of a mountain range that was once covered with trees and wetlands. What was once a pristine glade has been blasted and bulldozed down to bare rock. The road is certainly a miracle of modern construction technology as it winds its way across the undulations of the mountaintops. My neighbors who run construction equipment for a living sing the praises of a job well done.
I don’t like seeing the tops of mountains removed, but who am I to tell someone else what they can or cannot do with their own private property? So, I have remained a quiet observer watching people I know quite well protest and get arrested at the same time as other people I see everyday grumble and complain that the project is being delayed by these tactics. Then came the 5-inch cloudburst that descended upon the Lowell area on May 29. I had 20 acres of organic corn planted along the Missisquoi River in Lowell inundated with 7 feet of swirling and rushing brown flood water. The big news on VPR several days later was that the state had inspected the water catchment basins up on the mountain and they had worked flawlessly. That certainly wasn’t my impression having crops that were affected by the flooding. I’m sure there would have been some high water with a 5-inch rain, but not a devastating flood. Thankfully, we only lost 15 per cent of our corn along the river in Lowell. After this incident, I have become painfully aware that what one does on his or her property does have tremendous repercussions downstream in lower elevation. An industrial wind project is not without the same kind of environmental consequences that would result from other large projects like a hydroelectric dam on a major river.
As a good neighbor I am asking Gov. Shumlin, Mary Powell and Dorothy Schnure to stop for a moment and reflect. The wind turbines on the top of the Lowell Mountains are a done deal. The water holding capacity of the mountain range has been reduced considerably and the environment has been changed forever. I’m asking Green Mountain Power to put the “community” back into Lowell Community Wind. Please demonstrate to those of us who will be living in the presence of your wind farm that you care about us as well as your profits and government subsidies. Please, please choose a lighting system for your wind turbines that is radar activated with motion sensors. I’ll enjoy the graceful turnings of your turbine rotors during the day, but I don’t want to see the throbbing of your red lights at night. I want to see the Milky Way overhead instead. This is the least you can do for us who live here.
There has also been talk from wind turbine supporters of healing rifts between people. Please remember that healing involves forgiveness. Green Mountain Power can remedy this situation by dropping all charges against the so-called trespassers and protesters. Try it. You might be surprised what a little goodwill can accomplish.
To Gov. Shumlin and everyone else who wants to ram through as many high-elevation ridgeline projects as possible, I say slow down and take a deep breath. Let’s see how well these wind turbines are going to perform this winter when the entire top of the mountain is covered with hoar frost and the conditions are like the Arctic. Maybe a statewide referendum is in order to determine how Vermonters really feel about industrial wind. And last, but not least, how about a little more help for those of us with smaller scale non-corporate wind turbines and other renewable energy projects? If you would help me run a 2-mile, three-phase power line to my farm, we could triple the energy output of our little Vestas V-15 turbine. That’s renewable energy that is actually good for the environment.
Jack Lazor is the owner of Butterworks Farm in Westfield.