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Environmental advocacy groups respond to wind developer’s withdrawal of interconnection request

NEWARK – Three Northeast Kingdom groups, Newark Neighbors United (NNU), Brighton Ridge Protectors (BRP) and Save Our Senecas (SOS) are elated and relieved with the decision by a Portsmouth NH industrial wind developer, Eolian LLC, to withdraw the interconnection request for its Seneca Mountain Wind project.

On Wednesday May 21st, Jack Kenworthy, CEO of Eolian said in an e-mail to ISO-New England “Seneca Mountain Wind has decided to withdraw its interconnection request … we are disappointed by the need to make this decision.”

Over the past two years, each of the rural towns targeted by Eolian for industrial scale development, {Newark, Brighton, and the Unified Towns and Gores (UTGs)} became educated on the realities of Industrial Wind. Long time Newark resident Nancy Fried said “Ridgeline industrial wind inflicts disastrous impacts upon wildlife habitat, fragile ecosystems, neighbors’ health, and property values, all while having an insignificant impact on Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. We should be doing useful things, smart things and effective things, and not ‘just everything’, to address our concerns about climate change” she said.

Each town voted overwhelmingly against the proposed SMW project. But it was the $86M price tag for a transmission infrastructure upgrade, and not respect for the wishes of the people of the Kingdom, that prompted the withdrawal. Community organizer Noreen Hession reported “Neighbors are delighted to see Eolian leave. Their presence has been a nuisance in the Kingdom for the past two years. While they repeatedly told voters they would leave if we voted for them to go away, it’s only the costs of a transmission infrastructure upgrade that put the final nail in their coffin.”

Significant Vermont resources have been devoted to this project by the Agency of Natural Resources, Department of Public Services, Public Service Board, town officials and citizen volunteers. In addition considerable monies have been spent as legal costs mounted. Sutton resident Rob Pforzheimer added “These projects cause communities anxiety and divisiveness, while squandering money, time and precious Vermont assets. It’s time to stop wasting Vermont resources, and require an ISO New England system impact study (SIS) before any developer initiates any level of an energy generation project – including MET towers.”

Hession added “While we are pleased with this turn of events, we know that our work is not done. Changes to the cost-sharing formula for transmission upgrades could shift the financial burden from wind developers onto ratepayers. With ratepayers footing the transmission bill, it is conceivable that another opportunistic developer might be attracted to this location. This would place Vermont’s second-largest block of wildlife habitat back in jeopardy.”

SOS cofounder Val Desmarais said “The knowledge that the mountains will be spared the assault of dynamite and bulldozers brings me great relief. We would like to extend our gratitude to the neighbors of Newark, Brighton, the UTGs, and beyond who contributed time and resources and enabled us to conduct outreach and educational efforts.”

Said Brighton Ridge Protector president Pam Arborio “We’re looking for support from the Shumlin Administration that is similar to what Governor Dean did for Vermonters. In 2000, after towns voted against a Bennington-Rutland gas power plant and pipeline, Governor Dean withdrew his support for the project and vowed to do everything in his power to prevent it, saying “at some point you have to listen to the people.”

Arborio continued “While many pro-business legislators will proclaim that “developers have the right to propose things” our state government is allowing developers to use their money and influence to destroy our communities. That is something that we must address and change. We take this opportunity to call on Governor Shumlin to work with the Vermont State Legislature to amend state law so that when towns vote ’no,’ we only have to do so once. It’s time to put Vermont communities, not merchant developers, in charge of developing renewables. And it’s time to guarantee that in Vermont, ‘no’ really means ‘no.’

Added Hession “The past two years have been life altering. As much as the interaction with the developers has been painful, I’ve also met some of the most committed environmentalists in Vermont: people with integrity, grit and passion who are determined that we will be thoughtful in our approach to climate change, and will not allow the same large scale corporations who created the problem offer industrial scale solutions that will enable them to profit by destroying our environment.”

She continued, “We have learned a lot about energy, state policy and the regulatory process. We’ve learned a lot about the measures Vermonters can take to combat climate change effectively. These are complex matters and we are in a position to help other communities threatened by reckless development proposals. This is what we intend to do.”