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Windham ridgeline project should be rejected

The current proposal to install approximately 40 wind turbines on the east ridge of the town of Windham is not only a violation of the democratically vetted and voted town plan, it also devastates the environment, undermines the economic security of our citizens, undercuts the increasing use of already available clean energy sources, and subverts efforts to build appropriately scaled sources of alternative energy. There may be not only economic security but also health issues involved. In concise fashion, the following outlines six major problems with installing wind turbines in the town of Windham and provides a rationale for the Windham Town Plan as well as for the Public Service Board of the state of Vermont to reject this application.

The objections being raised do not argue for a general ban on the use of wind turbines for the generation of electricity. In fact, we generally support such projects in appropriate environments. The issue is that such a project cannot be rationally and realistically justified in the town of Windham. Nor is this issue reduced to people not “liking the way wind towers look.” None of the problems we raise have anything to do with personal aesthetics. The focus is civic, social and political: there is a cluster of decisive economic and ecological reasons against approving the application to build wind turbines in the town of Windham.

Understanding the specific geography of the town of Windham is crucial to any assessment of the viability of installing wind turbines there. In short, Windham is a narrow town lying between two ridges with its main road running north and south. The installation of wind turbines in Windham and Grafton, rising some 450 feet, would place over 450 homes within a two-mile radius and over 900 homes within a three-mile radius of the wind turbines. Their presence, inescapably massive, would overwhelm Windham and fundamentally change its character. Here are six core reasons why the proposal should be rejected.

1. Environmental Destruction. The wind turbines of the size and weight proposed require the installation of massive concrete bases, reaching as far down as 100 feet, as well as the leveling of peaks and valleys to create service roads. This involves a permanent and fundamental alteration of the ridgeline, wildlife habitat, and Stiles Brook watershed, with possible negative consequences for future flood control. Millennia after we are gone, those foundations would still be there.

2. Proximity to Dwellings. Windham and Grafton have the highest number of dwellings within both a two-mile and a three-mile radius of the proposed towers of any other actual or proposed wind turbines project in Vermont. The density of the homes impacted sets Windham off from other wind turbine projects. Residents on Abbott Rd., Wheeler Rd., and Woodburn Rd. are especially affected with homes estimated to be within 500 horizontal feet and 700 vertical feet of the turbines. In addition to their sound being an inescapable nuisance, there is new research focused on health issues resulting from both their audible and inaudible noise. While the book is still open on this, there is little doubt that such close proximity involves risks.

3. Procedural subversion. The current procedure that allowed for the installation of MET towers in Windham and entire wind turbine projects in other Vermont towns was designed to circumvent the rigorous environmental reviews required by Act 250. In essence Act 248, under which renewable energy projects are evaluated, essentially preempts local planning and Act 250. As a result, town plans and environmental impact statements lack any binding force on the approval procedure. For a state that places so much emphasis upon the integrity of towns and its mountains, as shown by the passage of Act 250, placing the approval of wind projects under the umbrella of Act 248 has the effect of subverting Act 250.

4. Impact on Vermont’s Uniqueness. Vermont’s primary source of business and tax income is tourism and second homeowners, with Windham located between the Routes 11 and 30 corridors, where the heaviest tourism in Southern Vermont is found. The natural beauty of its landscape and intact mountains contributes to Vermont’s uniqueness and allure. From an economics perspective, locating commercial turbines in this area makes no sense. But apart from income generated by tourism, the mountains are, in themselves, a state and national treasure. Cutting off their tops and turning them into pillars for wind turbines in the name of saving the environment would irreparably destroys the environment.

5. Impact on Economic Security. Having turbines close to homesteads devalues them and their land, which is especially injurious to lower and middle-income families who can least afford it. For the majority of Vermonters their home is their primary asset. In both Sheffield and Lowell, individual homes have lost value. The only direct economic advantage, even with the limited payments to the towns of Windham and Grafton, would be to a multinational corporation (Iberdrola) and an out-of-state forest company (Meadowsend Timerlands) that has refused to even consider introducing solar technology with a scale appropriate to a small town like Windham (e.g., a solar orchard of 16 acres could supply 400 homes in our area).

6. Vermont and Carbon Fuel Independence. Licensing the development of the Windham project has nothing to do with either saving Vermont’s environment or creating fossil fuel independence for the State. Approximately 33% of Vermont’s portfolio is contributed by Hydro-Québec (water power); approximately 50% comes from non-carbon sources. From these sources we presently have a glut, not a shortage of electricity. Increasing the contribution from Hydro-Québec by a percent points or two would add much more electricity than what the Windham project would generate. Clearly this is the best alternative to expanding the supply of electricity with the least impact to the environment if it is needed in the future.

We find ourselves in the paradoxical situation of the Windham Turbine Project being justified as part of solving a problem that does not exist for the state of Vermont in general and for the town of Windham in particular. Vermont already has the lowest carbon footprint in the country. What is driving this project is not “the general good of the state” and certainly not the welfare of the citizens of the towns of Windham and Grafton. There is no decision that any legislature or any Public Service Board could make that will impact the state of Vermont, its special environment, and its future generations more negatively than approving turbine projects like the one being proposed for the Town of Windham. It should be rejected.

Donn Welton writes from Windham.