SWANTON, Vt. – Voters in the town of Swanton on Tuesday voted 731-160 to reject a wind-energy project that, residents say, poses a threat to health, home values and local aesthetics.
After months of weighing pros and cons of constructing 500-foot wind turbines on a prominent hillside near 134 homes, Swanton residents overwhelmingly said no to the project and sent a message to lawmakers that they want local control over renewable energy siting.
As part of Tuesday’s special election, the first of two articles on the ballot asked voters if they oppose putting turbines on Rocky Ridge. The vote was 731-160 against the turbines.
The second question asked if voters wanted new legislation enabling local control and review of industrial scale wind and solar generation. The result was 744-142 in favor of local control.
Christine Lang, a resident who led a grassroots effort to stop the project, said results of Tuesday’s election show broad citizen engagement pays off.
“We’ve been to almost every single house in Swanton. When we first got the (voter) list we thought there’s no way we could ever do this. But it went quite well,” she said.
“We went door to door with flyers and talked to a lot of people. The majority of the feedback we got from people is they’re on our side. They don’t want these things.”
Lang said top concerns among people she spoke with included health worries related to noise and infrasound; water quality issues, including runoff to wells, Fairfield Pond and St. Albans Bay; and sinking home values.
The concerns were especially imminent for 134 families living within a one-mile radius of Rocky Ridge, Lang said.
“People are very fearful for their children and how they’re going to be affected by it. There’s a lot of small children right here close by.”
As a homeowner who would have to live in the shadow of the towers, Lang said she worried how the project would impact home values and the natural beauty of the area.
“You come up here for a reason, and when you have a 500-foot turbine looming 2,000 feet from your home, my house is not going to be worth what it’s worth right now – there’s no way. Who would want to buy it?”
She added that wind turbines would be devastating for homes on Fairfield Pond.
“The people on the pond are going to lose why they’re on the pond – peace, tranquility, the loons, the peaceful evenings of not looking at seven blinking red lights reflecting on the water.”
Since introducing the project in June, Swanton Wind LLC, the developer, has lost support of electric companies and the Public Service Department. Even Gov. Peter Shumlin, the lead pitchman in favor of turning Vermont into a stand-alone all-renewable-energy economy, came out against the project.
Barriers to moving ahead with the 20-megawatt facility include maxed-out transmission lines and low density population areas that don’t need the generation. Adding lines to carry power to other areas of the state would add millions of dollars to the project, driving up energy prices for ratepayers.
A lesser known, but equally significant, barrier is a hazard notice from the Federal Aviation Administration, which warned turbine blades would interfere with radar between the Boston Air Route Traffic Control Center and the FAA Saint Albans enroute radar antenna. The Boston Center relies on radar to ensure safe air travel across New England states, New York and part of Pennsylvania.
Joel Clark, vice chair of the Swanton Selectboard, told Vermont Watchdog the vote “certainly will send a message to the Legislature that there should be some local control.”
He said Swanton’s zoning standards don’t allow for developments of that size, adding that the Public Service Board’s process for approving renewable energy is outdated. The PSB has the final say on whether the project is approved.
“I think when they passed that law and created the Public Service Board, it was for the big plants that provided electricity like in Vernon, not these renewable energy projects that are springing up everywhere uncontrolled.”
Lang said residents aren’t against renewable energy projects if they’re sited well.
“Projects have to be done right. That’s all the town is asking for. Putting turbines that are the height of 50-story buildings in the middle of a development and over a pond isn’t right,” she said.
“Montpelier needs to start listening. Vermont’s not going in a good direction right now. I’ve never been a political person, but I’m so disgusted with the way they’re working right now. It’s certainly not the Vermont way.”
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