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A visit to the Lowell industrial wind turbine site

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, I toured the Lowell Mountain Wind project with the govenor-appointed Energy Generation Policy Siting Commission, Green Mountain Power officials and the press.

Our GMP guides were cordial and forthright. They answered every question asked and did not appear to dodge, evade or mislead. For instance, they admitted using carbon-base power (when the turbines are not producing they use a parasitic load, drawing electricity into the turbines from the grid). GMP officials admit they won’t know if the efforts to reduce runoff and rebuild the environmental destruction will work for a few years. We saw the entire project and they even gave us the formula to figure out how much dynamite was used in blasting for pads and roads.

The tour to look at the industrial wind turbines (IWTs) and their pads took us to the top of the Lowell Mountain Range on 16-foot wide roads and, at one point, we were able to see down both sides of the mountain, a 100-foot drop. Reaching a height of 2,600 feet above sea level, I was devastated to realize both headwaters and Class A streams were buried under roads and construction pads. I found the use of level spreaders in controlling runoff to be no more than the placement of glorified water bars. This doesn’t appear to be the solution needed to replenish aquifers that should ultimately distribute water through underground channels, creating small bogs and pools to support the ecosystem and wildlife.

The PSB has decided 30 dB is an acceptable sound level for the inside of homes with proximity to IWT projects. To me any sound, thing or person that comes into my home day and night uninvited is unacceptable. Vermonters have a right to protect our homes and sound is as much of an intruder as someone walking through your front door at 3 a.m.

The Lowell project is a done deal. We should not be naive enough to think they’re going to tear them down. The result is a project with huge impacts on headwaters, aquifers, bear habitat, the tops of Lowell ridgelines being leveled, cuts that blasted through ledge to make roads and all for the sake of producing more electricity than can be used. It just doesn’t make sense.

In my opinion, the Public Service Board should have thoroughly investigated Lowell as a proposed project. It should have included financial background checks, the true ecological impacts (not allowing nearby conserved land as a trade-off for the destruction of rare ecosystems and bear scarred beech groves and the destruction/covering of headwaters) and, most important, an approved application to ISO New England acknowledging power from the proposed site would be accepted on the grid. Lowell/GMP is now faced with a $10.5 million upgrade being added in the hopes it will help stabilize the unreliable power inherent in industrial wind turbines. Of course the $10.5 million and an additional $20 million spent on larger turbines and blades will be passed on to ratepayers.

A moratorium on IWTs is needed not for two or three years but 10 years to learn from projects like Lowell. Vermont’s ridgelines are one of our most precious assets. Please don’t build new wind projects because you think they’re “green.” They destroy bear habitat, disrupt wetlands, headwaters, violate the Clean Water Act, disrupt bat and avian migration and violate the rights of abutters. They affect area homes and neighboring towns with unwanted sound, blinking lights and loss of property values. What, for hundreds of years, was a peaceful hike to the top of a beautiful mountain is now surrounded by “NO TRESPASSING,” “KEEP OUT” and “DANGER” signs. Is this how Vermont wants to be viewed?

This op-ed is by Joe Arborio of Brighton, who lives near the proposed 30-turbine Seneca Mountain wind project. He was chosen by lottery to accompany, as a member of the public, the Governor’s Energy Generation Policy Siting Commission on a visit to the Lowell Mountain wind power site. He attended a presentation to the commission at the Sheffield site, accompanying his his wife, Pam Arborio, who was chosen for that visit by the lottery.