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Kidder Hill wind project draws fierce opposition

Irasburg – About 40 people, including two state legislators, came to the Irasburg Select Board meeting on Monday night to protest two commercial scale wind towers proposed for nearby Kidder Hill.

David Blittersdorf, the professional wind developer who plans to put up the turbines and owns the land they would be sited on, also came to the meeting but was not allowed to speak. After listening to well over an hour of public comments, the select board agreed to have some answers at its next meeting to questions about exactly what the town can and cannot do regarding wind development.

Kidder Hill is about four miles northwest of Irasburg. The two towers would produce five megawatts of power and would be nearly 500 feet tall, or as one citizen pointed out, almost a third as tall as Kidder Hill itself.

“Becky Boulanger – wind towers” was the first item on the agenda for the select board’s Monday meeting. Ms. Boulanger lives on Kidder Hill and has been organizing the opposition to Mr. Blittersdorf’s plan.

The meeting was called to order in its regular location at the town clerk’s office, then moved to the town hall in order to accommodate the crowd.

The select board made it clear from the outset that people would be allowed to speak only when recognized by the board, and comments should be directed to the board, not to other members of the audience.

However, when people realized that Mr. Blittersdorf was also at the meeting, he was pelted with name-calling and derisive comments.

“I think it’s a little sneaky and underhanded,” Kidder Hill resident Tim Clark said.

“Can I say a few words?” Mr. Blittersdorf asked.

“I don’t think they want to hear from you,” select board Chairman Robin Kay said.

Ms. Boulanger was the first of at least a dozen people who the board officially recognized to speak.

“I want it to be a matter of public record that as soon as the citizens of Irasburg learned that there were to be two industrial wind towers, they came before their public officials to see what can be done,” she said.

She was not among the few residents of Kidder Hill who were invited to an August 1 meeting to hear Mr. Blittersdorf’s proposal, she said. She had been both surprised and horrified to learn about the proposed wind development.

She said she supports renewable energy, but she has grave concerns about the sight, the sound, the health issues, and the environmental impacts of wind development along ridge lines in Vermont. She wants to see the community translate its concerns into action as quickly as possible, she said.

Michael Sanville of Irasburg read a list he had compiled of 14 arguments against the Kidder Hill wind towers, ranging from aesthetics to health issues to property values.

“If this type of power is so appealing to a select group of people in this state, why not install these towers in Chittenden Country, or Montpelier?” he asked, drawing cheers from the crowd.

Steve Therrien recounted his family’s experiences living near Sheffield’s wind project.

“The Governor said there would be winners and there would be losers. You’re looking at one of the losers,” he said.

His family was driven from their 50 acres in Sheffield by the First Wind project there, he said. Over a three-year period the family experienced a series of health issues, including long-term insomnia, which they attributed to wind noise, Mr. Therrien said. Although his hand-held decibel meter showed readings above legal levels, neither the state nor the wind developer was willing to accept his readings as proof in their efforts to negotiate reasonable compensation for their property, Mr. Therrien said.

“You’re dealing with people who won’t tell you the truth,” he said.

Several speakers compared state and industry response to the health concerns surrounding wind turbine noise to the complacency of previous generations about the dangers of cigarette smoking or radiation exposure. People believed early on that smoking and radiation were safe. It was only later on that the scientific community recognized the dangers.

“It takes years and years to get research done,” said Marie Engels, another resident of Kidder Hill.

Kevin McGrath of Lowell described his experiences living near the Lowell wind farm. his house is less than 3,000 feet from turbine number one. He planned to ask for a reduction in his property taxes. While the turbine noise inside his house is generally below the legal limit of 30 decibels, the noise is irritating enough over time that he would not be able to sell his house, he said.

“Visit my house, be my guest, and tell me that you would want a turbine near your home,” he said.

There are also many parts of his land on which his decibel meter is recording much higher readings, he said, making it impossible for him to ever subdivide it.

“My land has scrap value now,” be said.

“When one person can do something on their land that impacts all of these people, it’s immoral and it should be illegal,” Ms. Boulanger said.

Two state legislators, Vicki Strong and Gary Viens, also came to the meeting. Mr. Viens expressed his opposition to the wind project. For the record, he voted against H40, the latest Vermont energy legislation, he said.

“We need to make Irasburg the place where all of these wind turbines come to a stop,” said Ms. Strong, who is from Albany.

Opponents of the Sheffield and Lowell wind projects lost a lot of time learning the ropes, Ms. Boulanger said. In order to avoid the kinds of missed deadlines and misunderstandings of procedure experienced by opponents in Lowell and Sheffield, it’s important to take advantage of the experience and knowledge of people who have done this before, she added.

Ron Holland, who has actively opposed other wind projects, offered to put his energy toward another anti-wind campaign with the Kidder Hill group.

Dr. Holland, who lives in Irasburg, suggested that Mr. Blittersdorf and wind opponents be invited to speak at a special town meeting. The two sides would present their points of view. After a public discussion, residents of Irasburg would then vote yes or no on the question “Shall the town of Irasburg support the Kidder Hill wind project?”

The select board agreed to research the requirements for warning special town meetings, and present their findings at their next meeting.

“You have to play the political process as well as you can, because the legal process is bought,” Dr. Holland said.

That sentiment was echoed several times during the evening, with particular skepticism focused on the Public Service Board (PSB), which regulates such projects.

“The whole thing is stacked,” Carol Irons of Albany said.

Ms. Irons also has a history as a wind activist.

“It’s an illusion of democracy. Three people who answer only to the Governor will make a decision in favor of the corporation.”

Pat Sagui of Westfield cautioned that part of dealing with the PSB is understanding protocols and getting paperwork filed in time to have legal standing to speak at their proceedings.

“If they think they can take down a little town because we’re a little town,” Ms. Kay said later. “We’ll know by next Monday night what we can legally do.”

Mr. Blittersdorf’s requests to speak were rejected several times by the select board. “You are not on the agenda, so I don’t think we’ll he making time for you to speak tonight,” Ms. Kay told him.

Outside, following the wind portion of the select board’s meeting, Mr. Blittersdorf, the CEO of NRG Systems, said he’s passionate about sustainable energy.

“We have to use every possible renewable energy source out there, or it’s game over,” he said. “And we’re going to have to cut our overall energy use by about 75 percent. It would take four planets to sustainably meet our current energy consumption.”

His vacation cabin on Kidder Hill is completely energy self-sufficient, powered by both a solar array and a small scale wind turbine, which is tied to the grid, he said.

Was he expecting this kind of objection to his proposal?

“I was blindsided by this meeting,” he said. “I had no idea that this was on the agenda for tonight. I just happened to come by.”

He said he sees evidence of outside organizing, both in the people attending the meeting, and in some of the comments.

Mr. Blittersdorf had brought several site and topographic maps on presentation boards to the meeting. According to the website for Kidder Hill Community Wind, he expects to finish a long list of studies by the end of the summer, and to start applying for permits for his project in the fall. He owns a total of 157 acres on Kidder Hill, in two parcels separated by a road.

According to the maps, he plans to site the turbines within 500 feet on either side of his own cabin. He also has a large area of cut over forestland that might be suitable for a large scale solar array. He expects to sell both the power his turbines produce, and the renewable energy credits, to Green Mountain Power.

Asked if he’d consider focusing on the solar potential if the community is too opposed to his wind plans, Mr. Blittersdorf said: “It can’t be an either-or question between wind and solar. We’re going to have to have both if we’re going to survive.”