When it comes to industrial wind power, I am sorry to say I have been more of a ridge straddler than a mountain protector. But no longer.
Like many Vermonters, I am concerned about climate change and I support the development of renewable energy. That includes wind, even though it will do little to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions. They are produced primarily by the gas that powers our cars and the oil that heats our homes, not the electricity that turns on our lights.
Still, wind should be part of the equation. Yet the more large-scale wind development I see on our mountaintops, the less I like it. Not the sight of the towers and turbines themselves, but the clearing, blasting, filling, leveling, grading and overall destruction that can be required to build high-elevation wind-tower pads, service roads and transmission lines.
God help our ridges if what happened to the Lowell Mountain Range is the first step in Vermont’s path to energy independence. Talk about a footprint. No one knows how many tons of explosives were used to build the 3.2-mile-long, 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind project. Or at least no one who knows is willing to say.
But it wasn’t Lowell that finally pushed me off the fence. It was the developer behind the proposed Seneca Mountain Wind project in Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark.
Seneca Mountain and the other nearby summits that would be subject to the up to 40-turbine project are special. Not because they are in my backyard; they’re not, although I wish they were. They are special because they are among the wildest and most wildlife-rich ridges in Vermont.
They are home to moose, bear, deer, pine marten and very likely Canada lynx, among many other species, and their trail-less summits are unlike any others I’ve climbed in Vermont. They consist of remote stands of bear-scarred beech that give way to open, mountain-top groves of old, gnarly yellow birch and towering spruce interspersed with moss-covered glades that are a pleasure to hunt, hike and explore.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group, a group of Northeast Kingdom hunters and anglers that know the area as well as anyone, opposes the project. They note it would despoil “one of the few wild areas left in Vermont” and diminish the public use of adjoining conserved lands, in which Vermonters have invested millions. (Read the full statement at vtfwcg.org.)
I was hoping Eolian, the developer behind Seneca Mountain Wind, would at least be sensitive to their concerns. Instead, in a power-point presentation to the Vermont siting commission that struck me as arrogant and dismissive, I encountered this stunning statement: “Preventing any impacts to bear habitat associated with renewable energy development while allowing bear hunting is a fundamental disconnect.”
Huh? Does Eolian really not understand the difference between preserving the habitat on which wildlife depends, and a management practice that produces public benefits and support for conservation while maintaining healthy, sustainable wildlife populations? And they’re experts on renewable resources?
What Eolian is suggesting is akin to saying that because we fish for Atlantic salmon, developers should be able to dam and divert rivers without regard to the needs of salmon. Well, that’s exactly what happened in the 1800s on the Connecticut River. Today there are no salmon to fish for, despite a decades-long restoration program that has cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
The real disconnect here is between Vermont values and an out-of-state developer that wants to build the largest wind farm in Vermont, one that would forever alter more high-elevation habitat than either Kingdom Community Wind or the 17-turbine Sheffield wind farm.
So you can now count me among the growing number of Vermonters who support a bill in the General Assembly that would establish a three-year moratorium on wind development in Vermont.
Big-wind proponents say S.30 would send the wrong message. But there is nothing wrong with saying we value our undeveloped ridges and their wildlife habitats and intact watersheds. And that before we sacrifice our ridges for some greater good – and profit – we must make sure wind farms are thoughtfully sited where they will do the least harm. We should not leave it up to private developers, many of which have no roots in Vermont or are foreign owned.
An independent environmental research firm has begun a study of the Deerfield Wind project’s impact on bears before, during and after construction of 15 turbines slated to be built in Searsburg and Readsboro. The study was ordered by the Public Service Board, and it only makes sense to have that information in hand before allowing other wind farms to be built in similar high-elevation bear habitat.
I don’t understand the rush to green-light big-wind projects in Vermont, unless it’s driven by subsidies and tax breaks that are untenable, or by a concern that Vermonters might discover the emperor has no clothes. Many energy experts are skeptical of big wind’s actual benefits in Vermont, and one expert has gone so far as to describe the manner in which the state treats renewable energy credits from wind as “a sham” that makes them seem much greener than they are.
Shouldn’t we make sure the benefits are real before continuing to irrevocably change our ridge lines? That would be the Vermont way.
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