SHEFFIELD, Vt. – Looking out over the vibrant patchwork of colors, residents and visitors to the Northeast Kingdom have noticed a new addition to the landscape this fall– wind turbines.
The sight is pleasing to some.
“I think we need more sources of energy and I’ve seen them and they don’t seem to be that bad,” said Nancy Kantar of Lyndon.
But others want nothing to do with it.
“It’s just sad that they’ve ruined our ridgeline,” said Chad Tollmann of Albany.
With Sheffield’s wind farm up and running, Lowell Mountain about to go online, and other developments on the drawing board, many Vermonters remain torn about placing industrial wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines.
It’s a calm day in Sheffield, but even the slight breeze is spinning the turbines.
“Eight miles an hour will have them spinning and generating,” said Brad Drake, the operations manager for First Wind. “The most satisfying thing to see those turbines spinning is the fact that you have 100 percent clean energy going into the grid and that’s very satisfying to see renewable energy here in Vermont, staying in Vermont, being produced locally and used locally.”
At peak performance, the $90 million project provides 40 megawatts of electricity– enough to power about 15,000 homes.
The majority of Sheffield residents support the project and the half-a-million dollars annually it adds to town coffers.
“These people that complain about these ridge tops maybe go up to ’em what– maybe twice a year? Then they say it’s their ridge, their mountain. Well, it ain’t. It’s whoever pays the tax on that mountaintop. It don’t belong to everybody,” said Jason DeGreenia of Sheffield.
Although the number of turbines and their locations were sharply scaled back from original plans, the project has also always had its share of opponents, especially from folks in neighboring towns who don’t get financial benefits from the turbines but still have to look at them.
“This is something that is not good for Vermont,” said Bob Michaud of Sutton. “It will be a huge impact for our area and our town and Barton.”
These turbines began spinning a year ago this month, and until the Kingdom Community Wind Project in Lowell comes online in a few months, they remain the best example of ridgeline industrial wind in Vermont.
A short drive from Sheffield heading south on Route 14, the turbines on Lowell Mountain are part of the new skyline. If negotiating with opponents was a challenge for developers in Sheffield, Lowell this past summer put that situation in a whole new perspective. Police arrested protestors camping in the construction zone and later in the summer blocking roadways to disrupt delivery of turbines.
While Lowell voted to support the project– like Sheffield– some nearby residents continue to feel disenfranchised.
“If you want to see those, you go to Pennsylvania or somewhere. You don’t go to Vermont,” said Gay Mason of Albany.
From his front yard, Mason has a clear view of the Lowell ridgeline.
“I don’t like ’em, and there quite a few people who don’t. I think they got suckered into it– Lowell did,” Mason said. “It was the money that was doing the talking.”
“I know there are some folks that don’t like the project, but it was very, very important to us that the majority did and that they said, yes, we want it here,” Mary Powell of Green Mountain Power said on WCAX’s “You Can Quote Me” in August.
With the Shumlin administration’s goal of Vermont getting 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050, the battle over Vermont’s ridgelines may only just be beginning.
“In the Northeast Kingdom, the ridgelines are priceless to us,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County. “This is our tourism industry. This is what people come to the Northeast Kingdom for– to see our mountains and our ridges. When you start to destroy that environment, you’re having a negative impact on not only the image of Vermont, but the economic well being of all of us.”
“You’ve got these ski slopes over here– people didn’t like to look at them, but now you’ve got them everywhere. What’s the difference? It don’t make no difference to me,” DeGreenia said.
“This uproar varies from location to location and I think the wind companies have done, have tried to involve the local communities in these decisions and I think some have done a better job than others,” said Gary Flomenhoft, a fellow at the UVM Gund Institute.
What made for a challenging climate in Sheffield and Lowell, may prove impossible at Seneca Mountain; the next major Vermont wind project in the works.
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