Vermont’s mountains and high ridges are once again under siege.
Across the length and breadth of our small, mountainous state, dozens of immense wind towers, taller than the Bennington Monument are either planned or already in place.
With official sanction, this state is in the process of gradually industrializing and suburbanizing its mountains and high ridges. In the Northeast Kingdom towns of Lowell and Sheffield major wind installations have destroyed the fragile ecology of high ridges and mountain ranges and compromised the viewshed for miles around.
Southern Vermont is not immune from this new threat to Vermont’s highlands. A huge industrial-scale project has been proposed for the high ridges shared by Windham and Grafton. Iberdola Corp. wants to place 28 500-foot tall wind turbines – the largest wind implantation in Vermont – atop those ridges. To allow that to happen would be a colossal mistake.
Both towns are rural and both villages are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The landscape there balances the works of man and the works of nature in a way that is pleasant, scenic and restful. In many ways, these towns represent the best of rural Vermont.
That would all be permanently damaged if these immense industrial wind towers were built.
This is not a matter of simple aesthetics. Vermont’s one drawing card in the battle for tourist dollars is its incomparable countryside. Compromise that, as these large wind installations do, and the battle will be lost, and our tourist economy will suffer.
They will also do significant environmental damage, impacting fragile, high-altitude ecosystems and destroying the forest integrity – “habitat connectivity” to biologists – that is vital for wildlife populations to thrive.
In fact, Vermont is not a very good location for wind generation. A recent issue of National Geographic shows prime wind generation areas in the United States as being off the Atlantic coast, and in the wide, flat Midwest. Furthermore, the demand for wind power is already maxxed out in Vermont. Executives of both Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative have said publicly that the transmission grid is close to being unable to accept any more wind-generated electricity.
Thus, the only real beneficiaries of these huge wind installations are the developers proposing them.
Global warming is a fact and we need to combat it. But to allow a distinctly mediocre power source to destroy our state’s signature feature, and compromise a natural, benign, world-class carbon sequestration system – which is what mountain forests are – seems utterly foolish to me.
There are better ways to reduce our carbon footprint and better ways to generate the power we need. We need to focus our energy and intelligence there, rather than on methods that benefit only large corporations and permanently damage our countryside.
Tom Slayton was the editor-in-chief of Vermont Life Magazine from 1986 to 2007 and is a long-time commentator for Vermont Public Radio.