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Proposed Irasburg wind project stirs controversy

IRASBURG, Vt. – David Blittersdorf, in many ways, has been the poster child for renewable energy in Vermont. From solar to wind, the All EarthRenewables CEO has been at the forefront of a number of projects and battles.

“We live in a society where the common good should overrule self-interest, individually or by town, because towns get their energy from elsewhere,” Blittersdorf said in April 2013.

But when it comes to a proposed project on property Blittersdorf owns in Irasburg, a group of local residents is saying enough is enough.

“The town has spoken, now the select board has to take action,” said Brian Sanville of the Irasburg select board.

Blittersdorf hopes to get approval to build two 500-foot turbines on his hilltop property with views of Jay Peak. But before any of that can happen, his lawyers Tuesday began the process of trying to convince the Public Service Board that a meteorological tower he installed a few years ago to test the wind did not require a certificate of public good. He has argued that since the tower was for personal use– to measure wind for smaller turbines at his cabin– the permit wasn’t needed. Opponents say his met tower is an example of not being upfront about his intentions.

“There’s been documentation that he put it in for personal wind and then realized how much wind there was, so now the idea has struck me that having wind towers– wind turbines– when he has already been doing this beforehand. I just don’t feel comfortable that being a true statement,” said Robin Kay, the chair of the Irasburg select board.

With the Sheffield wind farm just a few ridges away and Lowell just next door, many Irasburg residents are all too familiar with big, ridgeline wind. They voted last week to oppose the Blittersdorf proposal.

Blittersdorf released a statement to WCAX News saying he is looking forward to complying with the PSB on the met tower and that he is ” … very interested in an open dialogue with Irasburg residents about the two-turbine community wind project …” and hopes ” …that they will reserve judgment as that process has yet to begin.”

Irasburg, like many small towns, has no town plan or other zoning that addresses renewable energy.

Karen Horn with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns says all they are looking for are projects that are community scale and fit in.

“Towns are absolutely playing catch up on this issue and there are a lot of plans that are being rewritten to address renewable energy generation,” Horn said.

Renewable energy advocates and the governor have said it’s going to take a major push to meet the future renewable energy goals. But local lawmaker Sen. Bobby Starr says if the Irasburg proposal is any indication, he’s not on board with the governor.

“Governors change and policies change, and I think maybe the time is coming where there may be a change and then the policy will change, but we can’t keep blowing our ridgelines up and covering our meadows with renewable energy,” said Starr, D-Essex-Orleans counties.

Familiar battle lines being drawn in the next chapter of the Northeast Kingdom’s wind debate.