Despite local opposition, the Seneca Mountain Wind Project received a preliminary green light to build four temporary meteorological (MET) towers in the Northeast Kingdom.
A Public Service Board hearing officer recommended to the board that it provide permits for two MET towers in Brighton and one tower in Newark, where many townspeople oppose the proposal. Newark has gone so far as to adopt new town plan language opposing such projects. The other tower is slated for Ferdinand.
This news comes one year after the New Hampshire-based developer Eolian Renewable Energy LLC and the European-based turbine manufacturer Nordex USA Inc. submitted a MET tower application. Standing no more than 200 feet tall, the towers would measure wind potential for a possible ridgeline wind development, which developers say would not exceed 600 megawatts.
John Soininen, Eolian project manager for Seneca Mountain, is pleased with hearing officer’s recommendation.
“We think it’s an appropriate and reasonable decision,” he said. “We’re surprised there was as much concern as there was relative to temporary meteorological towers, and we remain concerned as to why there’s such opposition to temporary towers solely to gather data.”
Newark residents voted 169-59 in September 2012 to amend their town plan to oppose large-scale wind developments within its borders. On Town Meeting Day this year, residents voted 88-12 to put $50,000 into a fund for legal services associated with fending off such a development, including the MET towers. The decision will raise the town’s tax rate by 5 cents.
“The Public Service Board process is not an easy one for a town that is small and has no legal representation,” said Newark Selectman Mark Ellingwood. “You really need a lawyer just to go through the process. It’s too bad that towns get into a position where they have to spend taxpayer money to protect themselves from something the people obviously don’t want.”
Soininen said that the Seneca Mountain developers would honor a town vote on the project, but only after one has been proposed.
“Once we propose that project, then the town can take a vote on it. And if they oppose what we propose for that town, then we won’t pursue development in that town,” he said. “But give us an opportunity to propose a project … because it’s important to understand how many turbines we’re talking about, the specific locations of those turbines, the benefits to the town and what is the potential revenue for the host community.”
In Lowell, for example, the town is using the $567,500 it receives annually to pay its municipal bills, eliminating municipal taxes.
Meanwhile, Newark has been battling it out with Seneca Mountain for months in the Public Service Board’s headquarters in Montpelier, and Ellingwood said townspeople are concerned about this new development.
“They’re distressed about it because the town is really against the wind project in general,” he said. “There’s been no wind project put forth yet, but the MET towers are a precursor to the wind farm.”
Seneca Mountain developers announced in March that they were scaling back their estimates for a 100-megawatt project by about a third. As VPR first reported, the company reeled in the project’s estimate because of effects to the grid.
David Hallquist, CEO of the utility Vermont Electric Cooperative, publicly opposed any new utility-scale wind projects in the Northeast Kingdom because the grid operator, ISO-New England, is ordering Vermont and New Hampshire wind projects to curtail electricity output to maintain grid stability. Hallquist said earlier this month that the co-op, which provides power to 74 towns mostly in northern Vermont, and its utility partner, Green Mountain Power, have already lost $1 million this winter on curtailment of Lowell Mountain’s 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind Project. He supports a three-year moratorium on utility-scale wind developments.
The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee is poised to pass out a pared-down version of a wind regulation bill on Tuesday. The bill would pay the House and Senate Natural Resources committees for meeting up to six times before next legislative session to “review the report and recommendations of the Governor’s Energy Siting Policy Commission” on how and whether to reform the Public Service Board’s permitting processes.
The town of Newark has until May 1 to file comments or to request an oral argument with the Public Service Board.
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, has taken major issue with the Public Service Board process and strongly opposes wind turbine developments on Vermont ridgelines. She doesn’t think the board will rule against the hearing officer’s recommendation.
“The rubber stamp board strikes again. It’s what we expect from them, and nothing the siting commission has done addresses this decision,”she said. I’d be very surprised if the board did something different.”
In the meantime, Ellingwood said, the townspeople of Newark would keep their fingers crossed.
“I’m not sure if there’s much more the town can do about the MET towers at this point,” he said. “I guess we’ll see what happens regarding an industrial wind project.”
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