Sheffield, the Northeast Kingdom’s first wind farm, opened to fanfare a year ago this month.
“This is the beginning of what is really an exhaustive effort to build renewables as quickly as we know how,” Gov. Peter Shumlin, D-Vermont, said in October 2011.
At the time, not even the governor may have realized how exhaustive the effort has proven.
With the turbines at nearby Lowell Mountain now spinning and the controversy over its construction cooling, Seneca Mountain– the area’s next major wind proposal– is already simmering. And what made for a challenging climate in Sheffield and Lowell may prove impossible at Seneca Mountain.
“The problem I have with wind in particular is it’s being done wrong in this state. You don’t rape a pristine environment in exchange for intermittent power that has to be subsidized by the taxpayer to be built and by the ratepayer in order to be maintained,” said Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia County.
The Seneca Mountain wind project is currently in the regulatory process to get four meteorological towers in the Towns of Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand. If the whole project goes forward in the future, it could mean up to 35 wind turbines on other ridges.
But even getting test towers has run into opposition. The residents of Newark voted last month to change their Town Plan to try and forestall any development higher than 1,700 feet.
“I’m not so much opposed with wind. I don’t believe it belongs everywhere and I don’t believe the area in Newark is suited for it. There’s five peaks, seven cliff faces. It’s a ludicrous spot,” said Mike Channon, the chair of the Newark select board.
But the idea of wind turbines on the ridgelines also has its supporters. Voters in the unincorporated towns and gores of Essex County, which include Ferdinand, voted this summer to support Seneca. And down the road in Lyndon, many say that making use of renewables is the way to go.
“I think if the energy is being used in Vermont then it makes a lot of sense,” said Karen Kennedy of East Burke.
“If it means making life easier for everybody, than we all have to sacrifice something and sacrificing Vermont ridgeline is fine by me. I have no problem with it,” said Duane Thompson of Lyndon.
Seneca Mountain officials have said they will respect the vote of the communities, but only after an actual project has been proposed.
Newark’s Mike Channon says it’s the process more than anything else that bothers him.
“The whole way it came about with the– we give you 30 days notice, then we go for a certificate of public good, then we ask what you think. You know it’s not their fault, it’s the process,” Channon said. “I think it was a dash for the cash. I don’t think this technology was ever designed to be on top of ridge tops and mountains.
In an effort to avoid future wind development, a number of planning commissions in the Kingdom and around the state have recently started to revise their town plans to reflect concerns about wind. And in Montpelier lawmakers will again push for a moratorium.
“If you’re importing power that’s cheaper than what we would be building on our mountainsides, then it makes no sense to build something and to have to pay more for it, especially when you’re destroying the environment at the same time,” Benning said.
“We accept blowing off a mountain to extract coal and we accept questionable water quality from drilling for natural gas as part of the process as part of the necessary evil, but we have a hard time accepting a road going in to put in wind turbines. Every source has impacts and we have to look at the relative scale of what they are and decide for ourselves. I think that is what this is really about,” said Jan Blittersdorf, a wind proponent.
“We’re only number 37 in the country in wind potential, but it should be part of our mix and we’re going to have to battle out these local concerns,” said Gary Flomenhoft, a fellow at the University of Vermont’s Gund Institute.
Battled out one ridgeline at a time.
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