BRIGHTON – Jack Kenworthy, head of the company that wants to bring another major wind project to the Northeast Kingdom, once again promised to abide by the wishes of voters in Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark.
But he told 150 people in the Brighton town hall Wednesday evening that Eolian Renewable Energy has to do its wind measurements and environmental studies first to determine how many turbines and where they would be located as part of the Seneca Mountain Wind Project. And then the project which could have 35 turbines would be presented to each town before any vote takes place.
And that means Eolian needs its four wind measurement towers in place to record wind speeds and variability, said Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian Renewable Energy.
Eolian Renewable Energy LLC of Portsmouth, N.H., and Chicago-based turbine manufacturer Nordex USA have applied for a certificate of public good from state utility regulators for the test towers.
The towers would be 200 feet tall. Kenworthy said two would replace existing towers between Brighton and Ferdinand and another would go on a logging landing. One is proposed near Hawk Rock in Newark.
Newark has voted to change the town plan to oppose large turbines, and has written Gov. Peter Shumlin to say that Eolian is reneging on its promise to abide by town votes.
The Newark vote is too preliminary, Kenworthy indicated during the wind forum in Brighton.
The wind project, like others in the state, has already begun to divide the communities. Pro- and anti- wind signs are sprouting all over Brighton, and people in the audience were wearing T-shirts stating “Seneca Mountain Wind” and others stating “Ridgelines Are Not Renewable.”
One Brighton woman asked Kenworthy, who sat on a panel supporting wind energy, about whether he was promoting the wind project through T-shirts and signs.
Kenworthy said he has been visiting Brighton for about a year, with introductions to the select board, businesses and abutting landowners. He and his partners held an open house in May and put on a BBQ.
Local residents, who saw anti-wind signs sprouting on neighbors’ lawns, asked for pro-wind signs and T-shirts, he said.
The project has already divided not only residents within each of the three communities, but revealed that there is division between the communities.
In an unofficial straw vote, voters in the Unified Towns and Gores, which includes Ferdinand, showed support for the project, while Newark to the south had the vote to oppose industrial wind projects in the town plan.
Brighton has yet to take a stand.
Select Board Chairwoman Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux said Wednesday that the board will send out a survey to Brighton voters and taxpayers soon to clarify what they think about the wind project. The planning commission is working on amendments to the town plan, she said. The select board wants to take that survey into account.
The issue could come up at town meeting in March.
The forum Wednesday was informational only, with the moderator limiting questions to Brighton residents and taxpayers. It was dense with information about the electricity system in New England, from the grid to the way wind and solar energy works.
Kenworthy sat on a panel of experts supporting wind energy, joining Washington Electric Cooperative CEO Avram Patt and Pat Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group among others.
The other panel featured Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who is running as an independent for governor to challenge industrial wind projects. Joining her were Luke Snelling of Energize Vermont, which has worked with Lowell wind opponents, and others.
The proponents of wind focused on the need for renewable energy including wind to slow or stop climate change. The opponents said wind energy would not make enough difference and promoted solar energy instead.
Both sides presented alternative claims about impacts or lack of impacts on property values.
Smith noted that Shumlin named an energy project siting commission Wednesday to look at where power projects should be located and called for a moratorium on wind projects while the panel does its work.
“That’s another good reason for a time out,” Smith said.
Northeastern Vermont Development Association has also called for a three-year moratorium on wind projects to give time to study their impacts on the NEK.
When a resident asked if there is anything that could stop the Seneca Mountain Wind project, Gabrielle Stebbins of the Renewable Energy Vermont said that the siting commission’s decisions could have an effect.
And she said six or seven towns across Vermont have put their opposition to hosting a wind project in their town plans, which the Vermont Public Service Board does consider when reviewing a wind project.
A resident asked if Brighton should support the wind project because of the jobs it would create.
Kenworthy said the wind project would be a $200 million investment, half into the turbines themselves and the other half in construction costs. The project would create about 250 jobs over the year it would take to build the wind site roads and pads.
Another 20 to 25 jobs would be created to operate the turbines over 20 years, he said.
One resident asked if they would receive free electricity for hosting a wind project.
Snelling said they would not.
Supporters said that rates would be kept lower from wind than solar power.
The local benefits would be jobs and tax payments, Kenworthy said.
Another resident wanted to know how far away they should live to avoid health impacts.
Ben Luce, physics professor at Lyndon State College and wind opponent, said that the estimate is 2.2 miles away.
Proponents said a half-mile is sufficient.
Luce said the state should be promoting thousands of roof-top solar and backyard solar arrays at the same cost as the wind projects with better results.
Comments by Smith and Luce prompted a response from VPIRG’s Burns, who said that anyone who believes in climate change should be pushing for all renewables and not holding back on anything.
If solar was the answer, Burns said, it would be under construction now.
He said the anti-wind panel didn’t understand the economics of solar power.
Luce called that character assassination, but moderator Bill McMasters of UVM Extension Service refused to allow the give-and-take to continue.
Only Brighton residents or taxpayers were allowed to speak.
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