In a wide-ranging meeting, Grafton residents gathered Monday to discuss everything from possible health effects of wind turbines on surrounding residents to suggested economic benefits of cutting taxes with yearly payments from wind companies.
But what much of the discussion boiled down to is a Vermont town’s inability to have any control over industrial wind projects since the state has a target of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 and such projects are decided by the Public Service Board and do not fall under Act 250 environmental regulations.
Former Vermont Agriculture Secretary Roger Albee summed it up when said, “The process we have today for energy siting is not a good process. Energy siting today … is taking our ridge lines. … Act 250 needs to be used in energy siting.”
This meeting of the Grafton Woodlands Group was held at the Phelps Barn in Grafton to address issues of concerns over the proposed 28-turbine project that would straddle the ridge in the VELCO transmission line between Grafton and Windham. The majority of the project, proposed by Iberdrola Renewables for the Stiles Brook tract owned by Meadowsend Timber, falls in Windham, where many more homes would be within 1.5 miles of the turbines. Eight turbines would be erected in Grafton; 20 would be built in Windham. Each would be a 3.45 megawatt turbine standing 492 feet tall from the ground to the top of a blade standing straight up.
In late October, both Iberdrola and Meadowsend held another in a series of informational meetings to address residents’ questions and concerns.
But Liisa Kissel, who sits on the board of Grafton Woodlands, said Iberdrola hasn’t answered a lot of questions, such as where they will build roadways to the site and what it would do if one town votes to allow the project and another votes against it. Iberdrola has said it would abide by the wishes of voters. According to VPR, Iberdrola is continuing its environmental and wind studies and will have a detailed proposal for both towns in time for a vote in November 2016.
Kissel said questions remain such as flood risk to Saxtons River, environmental degradation, loss of tourism, affects on health and whether payments to the town ($285,000 and $715,000 annually to Grafton and Windham respectively) were enough to offset losses.
Stating that he’s a Republican, state Sen. Joe Benning told the crowd of more than 50 that there are no party lines when it comes to industrial wind farms. The Senate Minority Leader from Caledonia said he is a believer in renewable energy. “We need to get off oil,” he said. But, he asked, “What kind of renewable energy future are we going to have? Wind energy by itself is a good thing. But it must be properly placed.” Benning, who with former Sen. Peter Galbraith, attempted to pass a moratorium on wind projects, said he lives near two wind farms – Lowell and Sheffield – and hiked up one to see what happened to the mountain top ridgeline. “We should not blow up that which we have been working to protect.”
He added that companies make offers of large sums of money that will divide the community but that communities must ask themselves, “Do we need the power? If we need renewable energy, can we keep it small-scale?” He ended by hoping that the area’s legislators would get on board.
Grafton resident Anna Vesely presented an analysis by CPA Larry Reed of Chester, who looked at the annual payments from Iberdrola ($285,000) compared to tax cuts that individual homeowners would receive. The study was commissioned by the Woodlands Group. (You can read the study here.) Reed’s work states that it was “conducted in accordance with attestation standards established by the American Institute of” CPAs.
Using current town and state tax documents, the study found that a homeowner earning the minimum $47,000 a year with a home assessed at $100,000 would save a maximum of $179.56 annually; a homeowner with a home assessed at $200,000 would save a maximum $359.12 annually; and a homeowner whose home is assessed at $300,000 would save a maximum of $538.68.
“It’s money,” Vesely said. “It matters to people.” But she added, the value of property within 2 miles of an industrial wind project decreases 40 percent. Vesely speculated that one-third to one-half of the population of Grafton won’t save anything because their tax payments are so low already.
Larry Lorusso and Michael Fairneny are neighbors of each other and of the Hoosac Wind project in Monroe, Mass. Lorusso, a photographer, said he had been a supporter of wind “based on Iberdrola’s words.” But he said the destruction to the environment that he frequently photographed, the swampland that is no longer there and the harm to not only his health but others near the Hoosac project have made him change his mind.
“You can feel the vibrations … It’s not what you see or what you hear. It’s what you feel. My new normal is a state of anxiety.” Lorusso said that since the windmills are not in sync, the noise and the vibrations can be jarring. As he spoke, he showed photographs on a large screen of the Hoosac project landscape. It included a dead bat, which he said, didn’t die from hitting a blade, but from its lungs exploding from the change in air pressure. He added that wind farms “are terrible neighbors and they are horrible for the environment.”
Lorusso then recounted one couple who retired to the area, but walked away from their retirement home, 2,200 feet from the project, because both got sick.
Grafton resident Anita Siano, who owns a professional animal caretaking business, worries about how pets and other animals would be affected by the project.
Flo Lockerby says she’s attended many of meetings on the project and is still gathering information. She does say, “health is the biggest” of her concerns. But, she said, “people live in tough conditions to sacrifice for energy,” such as near Texas oilfields and West Virginia coal mines.
“I do think it’s fair if one or two families have to move because of sound problems. I’ll have to ask my husband if he’ll be willing to move. He built our house.”
She added the powerlines were recently doubled in size with many more acres clear-cut all to make way for more power. “We have to take some ugliness here. How can we be so arrogant as to think we can’t? That is why I’m still undecided.”
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