The Governors Siting Commission held a lottery to choose four citizens to accompany them on visits to the Sheffield and Lowell Industrial Wind Turbine (IWT)projects on Feb. 12, 2013. As luck would have it both my husband Joe and I were chosen, his draw was to visit Lowell, mine was the Sheffield visit.
The opportunity to spend “quiet” time with Commission members and to view the turbines was an enormous responsibility. We carried the entire community fighting future IWT development on our shoulders. This responsibility was not taken lightly.
Before and after pictures were gathered and studied. Reports of the developers process, issues relating to water runoff, destruction of wildlife habitat, ecological damage and noise complaints were some of the issues studied. Lists of questions for the developers, both from ourselves and others involved in our battle, were drawn up. Finally the day arrived.
Joe has already written of his observations during his Lowell tour, the following comments will address my visit to Sheffield.
Never having visited Sheffield before and unsure of our downloaded directions we stopped at the Barton Municipal offices to ask directions. The first question they asked was”Do you have permission to visit the site?”
This simple query was the first of a series of contradictions that would unfold this day.
As we drove the miles of dirt road leading to the turbines they were nowhere to be seen. Visibility was poor, the snow and wind masking the project.
We joined the Siting Commission, press and videographer in First Wind offices at the base of the mountain. A “canned” presentation followed, questions from the Commission answered politely but questions I poised were either brushed aside, given no weight or, as would continue throughout the visit, answered with an arrogant, snide remark. The answer to a direct question about issues with the Clipper rotors was total misinformation, the infrasound query discounted and when I asked about water monitoring on the mountain they laughed saying “what sense would that make, the issue was water quality at the base not on the mountain itself”. I found most of the presentation and tour a lesson in frustration.
We all squeezed into a snowcat (picture 12people in a Volkswagen), windows fogged inside, low visibility outside. As we drove up the 14′ wide road the few turbines we could see at the base of he mountain came into view. Their placement made them appear the the blades might hit the ground as they slowly turned. As we often hear, the ISO had again today curtailed the ability of the Sheffield turbines to produce at full capacity. How often did this happen? Often enough to make one wonder why no one had investigated this problem long before a project of this magnitude was built!
We continued on the roads blasted through rock to arrive at the only site we would be allowed to physically investigate. Standing on the largest pad of the project, wind whipping, snow swirling I saw the monstrosity of my nightmares for the first time. There are no pictures taken that show just how huge these turbines are. The thought of 35-40 even larger turbines and blades marching down the ridge lines above Newark, Brighton and Ferdinand is terrifying. The stories of there being no sound as you stand under the turbines is false. They are very loud and it was easy to imagine that noise projecting down the mountain and traveling out across the valley. This was the one fact First Wind admitted readily, turbines produce noise, close and at a distance.
The pad was surrounded by blasted rock and what appeared to be piles of rubble. I asked how much dynamite had been used in the building of the roads and pads. The answer to a frequently asked question:” we have no idea”, this from the construction manager and developer.
Having studied a map of the Sheffield turbines and reading of other visitors experiences I asked why no one was taken to visit a group of turbines further up the mountain. I knew an important scarred beech feeding ground for bears had been destroyed in that unseen area. My understanding was ANR made First Wind conserve land in two other places to compensate for the destroyed feeding ground but the conservation lands were separated by a mile of roads and subsequently logged. Are there beech trees left in the area? We don’t know. Again my question was ignored, what I believe to be the access road not even plowed.
Since our schedule for the day was tight, we spent no time on our return to the base discussing what we’d seen. Oh, and by the way, although the staff in Barton questioned us with suspicion, First Wind invited us back anytime to hike up the roads as long as we parked near the main road. Strange the people in Barton wouldn’t know that!
Because of misleading answers, the attempt to evade important questions, the definite sense First Wind management were only concerned with a Dog and Pony Show for the Siting Commission I would be naive to believe the figures presented and discount their attempts at transparency.
Sadly, the destruction to the environment, wildlife (particularly the bear feeding areas), headwater damage, health issues and a major problem with grid instability were pushed aside by the PSB “to serve the greater good”. Can this outcome be justified by our legislature as Vermont’s path to independence from fossil fuel ? Will curtailing and low wind continue to increase the use of electricity from the grid to stay operating?
A moritorium may bring common sense back into the equation. Completed studies in Canada and Europe on infrasound and health issues should be part of an investigation into the question of IWT’s being the solution in our state to lower CO2 emissions. Instead of millions in subsidies going to out of state, foreign developers reward smaller municipal and personal solar and wind efforts. Encourage weatherization programs providing grants or loans to those of our own citizens and small businesses unable to afford expensive renovations. Instead of allowing Big Wind to tear apart our communities and families encourage working together as we New Englanders always have to achieve our goals. But our mountains, the very heart of Vermont, should no longer suffer the destructive footprint we see in every IWT project built to date.