The town of Swanton has struggled to get the governor’s ear in its fight against 500-foot wind turbines planned for Rocky Ridge, but soon the entire state will know what residents think of the super-sized green-energy project.
On Tuesday, town residents will meet at the Village Municipal Complex to vote on two articles pertaining to the siting of seven wind turbines on nearby Rocky Ridge.
The 20-megawatt energy plant, which developer Swanton Wind LLC has planned for a hillside near 134 houses, would provide power on windy days to an estimated 7,800 homes.
The first of two articles on the ballot asks voters if they oppose the installation of the turbines. The second asks if they want state lawmakers to pass legislation allowing local control and review of industrial scale wind and solar generation.
A yes vote to both would send a strong message that yet another Vermont town objects to poorly sited renewables. Irasburg voted 274-9 against a similar project in October. It would also signal that Vermonters resent having no say in the Section 248 process – the quasi-judicial approval process for energy projects overseen by the Vermont Public Service Board.
While the special election is only days away, the winds are blowing strongly against the project’s developers.
Grassroots opposition group Oppose Swanton Wind has been alerting residents to the project’s possible negative impacts on wildlife, water quality, noise, aesthetics and property values. In addition, Green Mountain Power and the Department of Public Service have come out against the turbines on the grounds that the area doesn’t need extra generation, and that purchase agreements would price the electricity above market rates, burdening ratepayers.
Even Shumlin – the state’s pitchman for making Vermont 90 percent renewable by 2050 – has spoken out against too large, poorly sited renewable projects.
But leaders in Swanton say they’re frustrated with Shumlin’s response to their concerns. Swanton Selectboard Chair Dan Billado told Vermont Watchdog the governor is sending form letters instead of talking to towns.
“Our Selectboard sent a letter to the governor and the Public Service Board with our concerns with this project, and our concerns of not having local control,” he said.
“We finally got a letter from them, and after reading his letter, there was another letter he had sent to another Selectboard, and to a lady from the development. I read those two letters and they kind of sounded familiar. … I pulled their letters back up, (and) it’s a boilerplate letter that you send out to everybody who has concerns – word for word.”
The Swanton Selectboard first contacted Shumlin Aug. 4, Board members wrote that it is “unacceptable that local legislative bodies have no statutory authority to enact regulations to control industrial wind turbine and solar panel projects.” When Shumlin didn’t respond, the town administrator tried again on Sept. 18, but with the same result.
Finally, more than two months after the initial contact, Shumlin responded.
In a letter dated Oct 14, Shumlin informed the town of its automatic party status in proceedings, as well as its representation on the Solar Siting Task Force through a member from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Billado soon discovered the letter was identical to one sent to the St. Albans Selectboard, and nearly identical to a cut-and-paste version mailed to a local resident. He wasn’t impressed.
“The governor should be ashamed for sending out boilerplate responses – letters word for word – in regards to folks concerned with this project,” Billado said. “These letters have several misleading and untrue statements in regards to lower electrical rates, creating jobs, and reducing our carbon footprint.”
Shumlin did not return Watchdog’s request for comment.
Billado says the Section 248 process is inherently unfair because towns don’t have veto power and no funds to hire lawyers. The Selectboard is calling on Shumlin and the Legislature to “grant municipalities the option to regulate … projects within their borders.”
In one section of the governor’s letter, Shumlin spoke of Vermonters’ responsibility to “reduce our carbon footprint.” Billado said voters are inclined to vote against the project regardless of the climate change debate.
“We already know how they feel, even if it was to fix global warming. By destroying the aesthetics of our beautiful state that people come here to see, it’s just going to add more fuel to the fire,” he said. “Why are we destroying our state that will never be the same again for something that really doesn’t matter?”
To that question, leaders at the Public Service Department don’t appear to have an answer. In recent interviews with Vermont Watchdog, both the commissioner of the Public Service Department and the department’s policy director said Vermont’s renewable energy plan will do nothing to stop global warming.
Billado said the high cost of renewables makes matters even worse. He cited a $50,000-per-month expense that Swanton Village currently pays for green energy. The village pays about 19 cents per kilowatt-hour for new renewables even though Swanton has a hydroelectric plant that generates power at 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“Swanton Village is a nonprofit organization; they don’t have $50,000 a month to buy whatever power they need,” Billado said. “It has to come from the ratepayers.”
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