GRAFTON, VT – About 100 people gathered at Grafton Elementary School on Friday, March 18 to listen to a presentation “ Wind versus Water” by Princeton Hydro Engineer Geoffrey Goll sponsored by Friends of Windham and Grafton Woodlands Group. These groups were formed as community groups to try to foster informed discussion around the wind turbine proposal for Grafton and Windham.
They gathered at the confluence of The South and North Branches of The Saxtons River, which floods Grafton about every seven years. The last flood was in 2011 at the cost of about five million dollars. The South Branch of the Saxtons River rises in Windham on the South Brook Forrest, which is where the proposal for the wind turbines is. Windham is about five miles due west of Grafton, but it is 1300 feet higher in elevation. About four years ago the out of state owner of South Brook Forrest, Meadows and Timberlands, invited Iberdrola, a Spanish Multinational, to place wind turbines on the ridge of the South Brook Forest.
The major concern in Windham was that Windham is a flood prone area. During the four years that ensued, Iberdrola and the people who support this proposal have said, ‘The wind turbines will make the flooding aspect better for all; despite the fact that blasting, excavation, bulldozing and the paving of 300 acres with various types of impermeable surfaces is what is involved in the project, Others are very skeptical of this.
It is not that they don’t believe that there are storm water controls for high elevation construction, but rather whether the systems designs for this project really work. The state has permitting, compliance and monitoring systems that have been developed, but do they work.
Goll is a licensed, professional engineer in Vermont as well as several other states. He has been watching the 21-turbine Lowell site, where an experimental storm water control system was put in place. Lowell went into operation in October 2012 about 3 ½ years ago. Energize Vermont was very concerned in 2010 about the number of ridgeline wind proposals in Vermont.
Goll spoke of the environmental issues of stormwater runoff creating significant water quality degradation due to silt runoff and changing hydrology during and after construction. Headwater streams feed drinking water supplies and critical aquatic and wildlife habitat. He spoke of the habitat destruction, impact to birds and bats.
The Social impacts include noise and Health. Studies and reports have liked the audible and inaudible low frequency infrasound to changes in the inner ear which can cause sleeplessness health problems such as stress, headaches, heart disease, and other medical problems.
Turbines can catch on fire, throw blades thousands of feet and completely collapse.
Goll spoke of the Clean Water Act and climate change already affecting communities, natural resources, and ecosystems. The Lowell Kingdom Community Wind has 21 turbines, 7 miles of new roads, 50 “manner of discharge” points and 52 stormwater structures.
Vermont’s only viable utility-scale wind turbine sites are located on ridgelines that are mountainous and heavily forested. Building utility –scale wind requires massive clearinga (400 ft. or wider) for turbine bases. And miles of wide, industrial grade roads (16-30 ft. up to more than 100 ft. wide).
“Regulations are only as good as the enforcement,” said Goll. The Operational Phase Stormwater Management Alternative Design and Performance Monitoring Plan (Sept. 2010) shall not commence until the new- design alternative treatment system has been in place for one full year from the date of construction. “No study has begun as of February 2016 and the permit expires August 19, 2016,” commented Goll.
The Windham and Grafton proposed ridgeline wind 96 Megawatt facility will have an estimated infrastructure od 10 miles of access/ crane path roads, 71 discharge-compliance points, and 74 stormwater structures.
In conclusion Vermont has yet to enforce the provisions of the study protocols for Kingdom Community Wind (KCW) in Lowell. As a result, VT is heading toward violation of its delegated authority under the Clean Water Act. The success of the experiment at Lowell is in question. None of the monitoring protocols for Condition 14 or the WQC monitoring test the flood attention modeling of the application.
Grafton- Windham Wind would be almost 50% larger than KCW with an estimated 10 miles of new roads. Grafton is subject to severe flooding via convergent upslope induced storms, typical of the Green Mountains. None of the current and proposed projects incorporate the effects of climate change in their design, nor is the current or proposed VT Stormwater Management Manuals include provisions to address climate change.
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