READSBORO – A plan to install 15 new wind turbines on national forest land in Readsboro and Searsburg has been approved by the US Forest Service, the Vermont Public Service Board, and the respective towns involved. But the nearly seven-year-old plan is facing staunch opposition from a formidable Don Quixote, tying the project up in US District Court.
The proposed plan would allow Deerfield Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Iberdrola Renewables, the second largest wind operator in the United States, to erect the windmills along the ridges to the east and west of Route 8 in Searsburg and Readsboro, on National Forest land. Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE), along with the Wilderness Society and Defenders of Wildlife, are trying to block the plan. VCE recently filed a motion for summary judgment in US District Court, claiming the project planning did not correctly carry out evaluation processes required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Annette Smith, executive director of VCE, says that VCE is also concerned about the site the project is set to use. According to VCE’s attorney Patrick Bernal, “This is the first instance we are aware of that the federal government has approved an industrial wind project, or power plant of any kind, in the middle of a national forest. We think that’s a startling development.” VCE believes this could open the door for all of Vermont’s US Forest land to be used for industrial purposes.
VCE also says the windmills would be located within two miles of the George Aiken Wilderness. “We know from experience worldwide that the wind from these turbines can go out from three to six miles,” said Smith. “Certainly the noise would impact the legal definition of wilderness, which is solitude, places where the footprint of man is not seen.”
The group’s main complaints come in what they see as shortcomings in the environmental impact statement completed in 2006 by the Forest Service. Smith says the US Forest Service essentially turned over the evaluation of aesthetics and noise to Iberdrola by using the same paid experts they used in their company’s evaluations, and failed to place noise monitors in the nearby wilderness. The group is also concerned with the amount of blasting performed at the project sites, citing possible impacts on groundwater, soil, and drinking water supplies. VCE also complains Deerfield Wind has failed to look at possible alternatives farther away from the wilderness.
Green Mountain National Forest spokesman Ethan Ready declined to comment on VCE’s complaints, citing the ongoing litigation.
Each town has come to a signed agreement with Deerfield Wind for the project to go forward. In the agreement with Readsboro, it is stated “The town has determined the project has the potential to be a net benefit, to provide much needed revenue to the town, and is an environmentally sound energy option for the state of Vermont.”
This is a belief Readsboro Selectboard member, and staunch windmill supporter Teddy Hopkins supports. “I would like to see us being self-sufficient stateside. It’s also better to have diversity so you have many companies and many sources contributing to energy.”
Hopkins also cited the financial benefits of the project. Each of Readsboro’s seven windmills will operate at two megawatts. Once they begin generating power, Deerfield Wind will pay the town $11,000 per megawatt annually, for a total of $154,000 per year. “That’s a pretty big chunk of money,” said Hopkins. “(It’s) about 25% of our municipal tax and could be used in many different ways, such as lowering taxes or building a new town garage we need.”
The Vermont Public Service Board approved the project as well in April 2009, with set criteria for Deerfield Wind to follow, including entering into long-term stable-priced power contracts with Vermont utilities. Other terms include Deerfield completing multiyear studies on the impact of the project on bear, bird, and bat populations, as well as detailed cost estimates of decommissioning, and submittal of a noise monitoring plan to be implemented during the first full year of operation.
The Certificate of Public Good issued to Deerfield Wind LLC explains that the board judges the construction of the wind turbines will “promote the general good of the state of Vermont.”
Paul Copleman, communications manager for Iberdrola Renewables, says that Deerfield Wind will not only benefit these towns, but also the state and private business. “Deerfield Wind will be a substantial investment that will result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in local property tax payments to the towns of Searsburg and Readsboro, and a comparable level of payments to the state of Vermont for education property taxes,” said Copleman. “Additionally, many significant business opportunities are created for local contractors during construction and several local jobs will continue through the project’s operation.”
Copleman also added that Deerfield Wind has already invested in many Vermont-based firms to help study this project.
The court case is currently in the waiting process, as the US Forest Service’s reply to VCE’s motion is due to the court by December 12.
Iberdrola is allowed to add to the United States’ case in support of the project, but not repeat the United States’ case in their motion, due January 11.
Judge John Murtha will hear oral arguments in the case on January 28. Any appeals made after that will take the case to US Circuit Court in New York City.
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