Iberdrola Renewables said Monday it will start to construct three controversial wind-measurement towers in Windham and Grafton later this month.
Iberdrola, a Spanish company that is one of the largest energy companies in the world, and its subsidiary, Atlantic Wind LLC, received a certificate of public good last month from the Vermont Public Service Board to build the three meteorological towers, two in Windham and one in Grafton. All three towers will be on land owned by Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., of New London, N.H., which owns 5,000 acres in the two towns.
The decision disappointed officials and residents in the town of Windham, which has a ban on industrial wind projects outlined in its town plan. Windham had received support from the Department of Public Service in its bid to keep the wind-measuring towers out of town.
Mary Boyer, chairwoman of the Windham Select Board, said Monday the town would not appeal the decision, and would wait to see what the so-called “met towers” showed.
“We were hoping the PSB would support Windham’s right to determine our own land use, as the governor has suggested, but that appears not to be the case at this time,” Boyer said.
Boyer said the PSB decision, which came down Dec. 20, was “very narrow,” and “an example of the law of unintended consequences.”
“Windham is one of the first, if not the first, town to write a clear prohibition of commercial wind development on its ridgelines. Our town plan has been our official policy regarding such development since 2007,” she said.
Windham rewrote its town plan in response to another proposed wind project – one on Glebe Mountain, another ridgeline in Windham. Catamount Energy, then a subsidiary of Central Vermont Public Service Corp., has since abandoned the project, which would have been built in both Londonderry and Windham.
Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said Iberdrola would like at least a year’s worth of wind data before deciding whether to pursue a full-fledged project.
He said construction of the three met towers would be done in late January or early February, weather permitting. He said the construction of the 150-foot tall towers was relatively simple and would not require any land disturbance. “The equipment can be brought in on a pickup truck,” he said. The towers are not even put on a foundation.
Copleman declined to comment on the legislation being prepared by several Vermont legislators calling for a two-year ban on commercial wind projects.
“We feel the state already has a very robust and transparent process in place that invites numerous stakeholders into the process,” he said. Vermont, he said, “is one of the tougher states,” and approval is a lengthy process.
Iberdrola, doing business as Deerfield Wind LLC, hopes to build a series of wind turbines on land in Searsburg and Readsboro, in extreme southern Vermont, on land owned by the Green Mountain National Forest. While the Forest Service approved the project, that project is being appealed, he said.
Liisa Kissel of Grafton, one of the leaders of an anti-wind group in that town, said Monday her group was pursuing a petition drive to have Grafton’s town plan amended to reflect a ban on industrial-sized wind towers.
Kissel said her group was not discouraged by the PSB decision, noting the approval was granted on what she called a “technicality,” because met towers were not specifically banned in the Windham Town Plan.
Grafton won’t make the same mistake, she said.
Grafton Select Board member Bill Kearns said the town of Grafton had not taken a stand on the wind project or the town plan amendment. An informational meeting with Iberdrola representatives is set for Feb. 2, and another meeting, with both supporters and opponents presenting their arguments, will be held Feb. 16, he said.
“We’re really looking at these things. We don’t know enough to say yes or no,” said Kearns. The Public Service Board makes its decision based on the public good, “not Grafton, Chester or Windham,” he said.
He said the Select Board hoped to have some kind of resolution regarding the wind project ready for discussion at Town Meeting Day.