In fact, the best geographic area in Vermont for wind energy generation is the northern Champlain Basin — Grand Isle and Franklin counties, and Lake Champlain. This is where the wind is most reliable, but where public outcry against wind development has been greatest due to a comparably larger population than in Northeastern Vermont. Early proposals to place wind turbines along the Route 2 causeway to Grand Isle were abandoned because of the large public outcry over aesthetics there.
A significant and controversial issue has caused a substantial rift in the lives of people living in Vermont – the implementation of giant industrial wind farm projects endorsed and supported by the Shumlin administration. My call for a moratorium on any form of large-scale, industrial wind in the Northeast Kingdom and Upper Valley regions is based upon a number of factors:
My wife and I see 14 of the 16 Sheffield First Wind turbines from our home in Wheelock, and although they look disproportionately large compared to the small mountains they sit upon, and the red blinking lights are visible from our bedroom windows at night, aesthetics are the least of my concerns about industrial wind. Celebrated artist Sabra Field has been quoted on Vermont Public Radio welcoming them as a new iconic part of the Vermont landscape, along with barn silos and church steeples. I wouldn’t go that far. But if aesthetics were the only issue for those questioning their installation, I’d be mostly silent.
The construction of giant wind turbines requires significant preparation, including the clearing of, on average, three acres of forested or mountaintop land per turbine. They require the equivalent of four-lane gravel highways to be installed for the oversized tractor trailers that must haul the gigantic turbine components to their sites, fragmenting critical areas of habitat and limiting natural travel corridors for wildlife.
The proposed location for the newest wind farm – the area bordered by Newark, Ferdinand and Brighton – is part of the largest tract of mostly undisturbed wilderness area in Vermont outside of the Green Mountain National Forest. It is the location where state-sponsored release programs for the endangered marten have occurred; where some of the most reliable observations of the endangered Canada lynx have been made; where the largest populations of moose, deer and black bear can be found. At least a dozen species of birds, mammals and reptiles listed as state-endangered, along with rare and unusual plant species, are found there.
Mountaintop forests take centuries to develop due to adverse conditions of sun, high-gust wind, erosion and frigid winter temperatures, among other factors. It takes an immense amount of time for a soil base to develop in such an extreme environment. A 10-foot tall tree at the very top of Hardscrabble Mountain in Sheffield could be well over 100 years old. The Lowell project, by leveling the top of Lowell Mountain, has removed an unusual sub-alpine habitat in Vermont that will take hundreds of years to regenerate. Wildlife that inhabit this zone cannot easily “just move” to another location, as has been suggested by some.
The Vermont Department of Public Service has published a study which identified that as much as possibly 6 percent of Vermont’s energy needs may be provided for by industrial wind by the year 2025 – a proportionately small amount compared to the potential for other “green” energy sources. Small community-based “utility” wind, solar, small hydro, biomass, and methane renewable energy projects are much more appropriate for the geography and demographics of much of our state. Plus, they could potentially generate a greater diversity and number of employment opportunities.
National studies have demonstrated that the best and most reliable sources of wind are found in locations that have little elevational changes – in other words, flat lands. Vermont is not flat; at least, most of it is not. If the state is to objectively, seriously, look at wind energy, it must look at the entire state, not just the rural mountainous areas in the Northeastern part of the state.
In fact, the best geographic area in Vermont for wind energy generation is the northern Champlain Basin – Grand Isle and Franklin counties, and Lake Champlain. This is where the wind is most reliable, but where public outcry against wind development has been greatest due to a comparably larger population than in Northeastern Vermont. Early proposals to place wind turbines along the Route 2 causeway to Grand Isle were abandoned because of the large public outcry over aesthetics there.
Some recent sources indicate that Vermont’s transmission lines for electricity, especially those of VELCO, are at their maximum usage capabilities for industrial wind generation. Instead of investing in additional large, statewide transmission lines for yet more industrial-sized projects of wind energy generation and transmission, would it not be advantageous to look at regional or local plants, tied into locally available renewable energy sources, which would keep the energy and its usage local?
The impact of industrialization, of any significance, is extremely foreign to many of the smaller communities in the Northeast Kingdom and Upper Valley regions of Vermont. Regional industrial/business parks both center and localize most effects. A high majority of people, my family included, live in this part of Vermont due to its relative isolation from major industries and urbanization – agricultural, managed timber, and small home-based or village businesses predominate.
Multiple generation families have lived off the land, worked the land, hunted the land, and lived as a connected part of this rural region. They have had gut-wrenching, heart-rending responses to what they relate to as a personal violation to their way of life, with the introduction of industrial wind to the region. It is so much more than just “looks” to them.
Vermont is an iconic image to millions of annual potential “customers.” Small farms, a mix of open and forested land, a multitude of scenic lakes and rippling mountain streams, abundant and diverse wildlife, and small towns with general stores tucked between gentle folds of the smaller mountains of the eastern part of the state is what tourists perceive Vermont to be. It is the “real” picturebook Vermont. And it still truly exists in the Northeast Kingdom and Upper Valley regions.
The image of the Northeast Kingdom was, in fact, the original draw for my wife and me over three decades ago when we began planning our family’s future. It still is the draw for many others looking either for a quality of life change or a restful retirement.
This mystique equates to the generation of millions of dollars in revenue for small tourism-based businesses, an important revenue stream for many of the smaller communities in the Northeast Kingdom and Upper Valley. The introduction of a new, “modern” element to this landscape seems foreign to people visiting this region of Vermont, and may be reflected in lower visitation levels in the future with wind turbines in place on various ridgelines in the region.
So, we cycle back to aesthetics, it seems. Wind turbines may be better accepted by our paying visitors if placed in areas of the state of Vermont already impacted by large-scale industry and sub-urbanization, i.e., Chittenden County and its surrounding communities.
Editor’s note: Steve Amos is a candidate for state Senate for the Orange-Caledonia district. He is a biologist and educator who has lived in the Northeast Kingdom for nearly 25 years. He is a two-term Wheelock Selectboard member and the current chair of the Caledonia County Democratic Committee.
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