One of the state’s most prominent renewable energy developers is proposing to build more wind power in a region of Vermont that has been divided over such projects for years.
David Blittersdorf wants to erect two wind turbines on a Northeast Kingdom ridgeline in the 1,100-person town of Irasburg and produce enough electricity to power more than 2,000 homes.
Blittersdorf is president and chief executive officer of AllEarth Renewables, which installs commercial solar power projects across Vermont and has been named one of the state’s fastest-growing companies.
The two wind turbines he is now proposing for property he owns in Irasburg would measure just under 500 feet high and sit on a quarter-mile piece of land on Kidder Hill.
The Kidder Hill Wind Project would generate 5 megawatts of electricity – more than twice the planned capacity of some of the state’s largest solar farms, and they would run more than twice as efficiently as solar farms do, he says.
Blittersdorf said Thursday he wants local residents to participate in leasing about 10 percent of the power the wind farm produces to lower their electricity bills. He said 20 people came to a neighborhood meeting at his log cabin to discuss the community wind portion of the project.
Blittersdorf said the message was this: “We are really trying hard, and we need to have your input to the Public Service Board and others to help us move this so you can participate. If you can be part of this, everybody wins.”
He intends to file 45-day notice next week of his plan to apply to utility regulators at the Public Service Board for a state-level permit, called a certificate of public good.
Brian Sanville sits on the Irasburg Selectboard. Sanville said Blittersdorf came to a meeting on July 27 to pitch the Kidder Hill Wind Project, but the meeting was canceled.
“I said, ‘I think the people should know what you’re talking about.’ It kind of startled [Blittersdorf] that I said something like that,” Sanville said. “We’ve already got lawyers involved.”
The board spoke about the project on Aug. 3, according to the meeting minutes, and “is concerned” about the project. Blittersdorf contests that the board is holding secret meetings, and he’s having trouble getting in touch with the Selectboard to inform the public about the project.
The town plans to speak to a local doctor and wind expert for advice, and officials have contacted the town attorney to discuss how to intervene in a regulatory proceeding, according to Sanville.
He compares the experience to the controversial Lowell wind project, “These two towers that he’s planning on putting up are 99 feet higher than the Lowell ones,” Sanville said. “I mean, that’s huge.”
Local strife over wind siting
In its current form, the project would have fewer turbines but longer blades than some of the most controversial industrial wind projects in the Northeast Kingdom, including those on Lowell Mountain.
The First Wind Project in Sheffield had 16 turbines that were more than 400 feet tall, according to the Northeastern Vermont Development Corp. The Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell was for 21 wind turbines more than 450 feet tall. Other wind projects have been built in Ferdinand, East Haven, Derby and Holland, according to the development corporation.
Blittersdorf would bring back some of his project team that built four turbines on the border of Georgia and Milton. That project, called Georgia Mountain Community Wind, produces enough power for 4,000 homes – or about twice as much as Blittersdorf is proposing in the Kidder Hill project.
The Northeastern Vermont Development Association has formally opposed wind projects in the region since it released a report from its wind study in March.
And local activists have been telling state regulators for years that wind turbines cause public health problems.
“The NVDA sees one clear benefit to industrial wind energy, one clear problem, and a host of troubling questions,” the organization wrote in its wind study. “It is the position of the NVDA that no further development of industrial-scale wind turbines should take place in the Northeast Kingdom.”
The study also concluded that focusing on electricity generation “is not the most effective way” for the state to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The state should instead address transportation and heating because they are “larger” contributors to climate change, the study said.
The study said industrial-scale wind turbines “have created significant local, regional, and state land use planning issues.” It concluded that homeowners are more likely to see a negative impact on their property values if the property is closer to a wind project.
The association urged the Vermont Department of Health to investigate any health claims Vermonters attribute to living near wind turbines.
Public health concerns
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment in Danby, said she’s been advocating for residents in the Northeast Kingdom for years to shine light on residents’ health problems.
“When you go around these neighborhoods, you find out that people can’t sleep at night,” Smith said. “They’re sleeping in their basements. They’re running fans all the time. This is really bad.”
Smith says Vermonters aren’t suffering from simple “noise” problems from wind energy. The large turbines are essentially industrial-scale fans that change the acoustics of the neighborhood, and there’s no technology available to install in a home that would protect people’s health, she says.
“This is not something you just recover from overnight,” Smith said of the acoustical effects on Vermonters’ health. “It’s severe, long-term damage that’s happening to people—and the best thing you can do is escape? Absolutely nothing should go forward on wind until they address the existing problem.”
Blittersdorf says the more than 250 potential documented symptoms from wind turbine exposure, including seasickness, aren’t accurate.“There’s no such thing as a documented health effect from wind turbines,” he said. “Wind turbine syndrome is not a medical reality.”
However, Sanville says he’s also heard of Vermonters getting migraines or having other health problems because some turbines spin as fast as 200 miles per hour. “There are more than just looks to it of a windmill,” he says.
David Snedeker, executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, said his board has not taken a position on the Kidder Hill Wind Project. He said the association’s wind study committee largely left the health issues up to medical experts.
However, the association has helped communities oppose wind development in the past. The association can now help Irasburg oppose the project and submit its wind study to the Public Service Board if the association gets involved in a the upcoming Kidder Hill Wind Project proceeding.
“Most importantly, they’re very divisive projects,” Snedeker said of wind. “They pit community against community, and they, I think our board believes, disrupt the ordered development of the region.”
The Irasburg Selectboard will take public comment on the issue Monday.