BARTON – There are better ways to reduce Vermont’s production of green house gases than industrial-sized wind turbines on ridgelines that cause controversy and overburden the Northeast Kingdom’s transmission lines.
That’s one of the recommendations out of a wind study done for the Northeastern Vermont Development Association that took three years of research.
The wind study report issued Thursday also said that reducing reliance on transportation and heating fuels would clearly reduce green house gas emissions. It’s not clear that wind projects in Vermont would at all.
The NVDA committee that produced the report wants the state’s utility regulators to examine the impact of industrial ridgeline wind projects on property values and they want the health department to study impacts on neighbors’ health.
The committee presented the report Thursday evening to NVDA’s executive committee. The executive committee, representing municipal governments from across the NEK, is expected to review it and present it to the full board of directors in December. NVDA is a development promoter as well as the regional planning commission.
“A tip of my hat to the committee,” said John Morley III, president of NVDA’s board and supervisor of Orleans village who served on the committee.
“You had a lot of really good discussion and a lot of meetings.”
John Ward Jr., city manager of Newport City, said the future is in solar power anyway. He noted that the city is participating in a small solar project by Great Bay Hydro at its Clyde River power plant.
Barton is also host to a large solar project and could see another one develop.
The executive committee asked for the study to make a decision about how wind and other energy sources should be considered in the NEK regional plan.
NVDA also wanted a moratorium on wind projects to give time to do the study. While the Legislature did not provide the moratorium, the study went forward anyway, with representatives of NEK towns hearing testimony from people involved and affected by the energy sector, from Vermont Electric Cooperative and the transmission line company VELCO to health, environment and renewable energy experts.
The study began with the potential for a third NEK wind project, Seneca Mountain Wind, in Essex County, but ironically the negative reaction by towns in the region and the cost of transmission upgrades – the very issues raised by the study committee – killed that project before it started.
The study committee, noting that Vermont has an ambitious goal of having 90 percent renewable energy sources by 2050, with 20 percent by 2017 – three years from now. But that 2017 target probably won’t be reached, according to news reports.
Meanwhile the NVDA wind report indicates that the NEK is already exporting electricity to other parts of Vermont and cite’s the statements by VELCO that the NEK grid would have to be upgraded to handle any more electricity generation.
With a decreasing need for more electricity in Vermont, the report says, “there seems little need for new large-scale generation facilities in the NEK region.”
Improving the grid would be preferable to adding more electricity generation, the report states.
As for reducing green house gas emissions, the report notes that experts say wind turbines have to be offset by natural gas power plants in southern New England.
The committee offers a series of conclusions about green house gas emissions in relation to wind projects:
– A focus on how electricity is generated is not the most effective way of reducing the state’s emissions;
– “It is unclear if industrial wind turbines in Vermont can bring about reductions in in the region’s greenhouse gas emissions;”
– “It is clear that significant reductions may be achievable by addressing the state’s larger contributors: transportation and heating.”
As for health impacts, the committee expressed concern about neighbors of wind projects who have health complaints they blame on turbines.
They want the state regulators on the Public Service Board to require continuous monitoring of noise, something the PSB is considering now due to several early violations of noise standards at the Lowell wind project.
The PSB is also investigating whether those standards work for Vermont.
The report calls on the Department of Health to actively investigate these health concerns. The uncertainty and lack of information about health impacts alone is enough reason for the NVDA to not recommend any more wind projects in the NEK, the report indicates.
As for impacts on property values, the report says that results are mixed and the reaction is subjective.
However, the report states, based on what evidence exits, that proximity to a wind project is more likely to have a negative effect on property values.
The wind committee wants the PSB and the Vermont Department of Taxes to consider tracking property values and sales around wind projects.
The executive committee will review the report and decide whether to recommend it to the full board at the October meeting.
The study and all the supporting materials is available on the NVDA website.
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