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Towns amend plans to fight commercial wind

In an effort to strengthen their stance against the proposed Grandpa’s Knob wind project, four Rutland County towns are working on amending their town plans.

Castleton, West Rutland, Hubbardton and Pittsford hope the new language will discourage development of commercial and industrial wind projects on the ridgeline.

Planning commissioners in each community were prompted to review their town plans in response to overwhelming concerns by residents and officials regarding the proposed Reunion Power wind project in the four towns.

Although the four select boards have already voted against the project, the towns are moving to strengthen that position if the project goes forward.

“The motivation to make the changes was the concerns on the wind project,” said Don Nickless, chairman of the Pittsford Planning Commission. “Basically, it was adding more clarity and emphasis on the need to protect our (ridgelines).”

At a public hearing Thursday night, John Hale of the Castleton Planning Commission emphasized that the purpose of the amendments was to amplify and clarify “what we know in our hearts about the importance of the ridgelines.”

He added, “We are taking a very broad look at the ridgeline. We don’t want industrial wind on any ridgeline.”

One of the most significant changes proposed in Castleton, Hale said, is identifying the 20 peaks and hills that will be included in a new Ridgeline Protection Overlay zoning district. He said the next step will be to amend the Castleton zoning ordinance to include more specific construction conditions.

Castleton’s town plan will include a renewable-energy section that highlights the importance of solar energy, wood energy, small wind systems and hydro power. Throughout, it includes very specific language on the town’s position on ridgeline development and industrial-commercial wind projects – and how they must be avoided.

Hale said after researching the health effects of large wind projects, Castleton officials thought it was important to include a new section on the topic. The wording was borrowed from the Hubbardton town plan.

Frank Giannini, a Castleton planning commissioner, said the new language is clear enough that the state Public Service Board cannot use ambiguity in the town plan as a justification to approve a wind project.

The Castleton Planning Commission voted Thursday night to forward the proposed amendments to the Select Board, which will hold its own public hearings, dates to be determined.

The other towns are scheduled to hold public hearings in the next few weeks.

Even though the four towns took on the project at different times, the planning boards helped each other.

“It’s not that we are anti-wind, just that we are anti-commercial wind,” said Alex Pritchard, co-chairman of the Hubbardton Planning Commission.

The other public hearings are scheduled for Wednesday in West Rutland, Sept. 17 in Hubbardton and Oct. 4 in Pittsford. Residents are asked to attend and provide their input to the changes.