Tensions are escalating after the Windham Selectboard sent a letter asking wind developer Iberdrola to back off a 28-turbine, 96-megawatt project planned for Windham and Grafton.
“We’re really divided on this,” said Grafton Selectboard member Ronald Pilette. “And that seems to be their way of operation, to come into communities and make a big issue for the town’s people.”
According to Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright, location has been a central theme.
“From the very outset we have maintained that this is an inappropriate site because what they’ve proposed to build on is at the headwaters of the Saxtons River, and it rises right here in Windham,” Seawright said.
Pilette noted the area has seen three devastating floods in the last two decades, and he has concerns about what would “amount to a couple of dozen football fields of concrete at the head of our water system,” he said. “It’s been very serious — stuff just washes through and takes out houses and roads. I had to take a 25-mile detour for five or six weeks after Hurricane Irene.”
Seawright noted there are over 200 houses in Windham within a mile and a half range of the proposed turbines. The rest of the town’s home’s are also close to where turbines would be constructed.
Seawright, who lives about 3,000 feet from where several turbines would be sites, expressed little confidence that either developers or the Public Service Board will protect him and his neighbors.
“The people who complain about the noise are dismissed by wind developers as just a bunch of trouble makers,” he said. “That’s probably one of the worst things they can do is to just blame the victim.”
The PSB on Monday took final comments on what will help determine temporary sound standards to be used over the next year. Finalized standards are to be adopted next summer, according to the newly passed S.260 (Act 174).
The Selectboard’s letter to Iberdrola said the project would have a negative impact on wildlife, water quality and human health. “We are unwilling to subject any of our town’s property owners to the unknown short- and longterm effects of exposure to turbine noise, vibration, infrasound, and shadow flicker,” board members wrote.
The selectmen also told Watchdog the mega-wind project won’t produce consistent power — wind turbines, on average, deliver little or no power about 60 percent of the time — and could cause property values to plummet.
“It’s a pretty bad situation, and there’s no compensation (for homeowners),” Seawright said, adding that he is seeking information on how the turbines will affect housing prices in the area.
Supporters of the project tout the expected annual financial benefit for towns. Iberdrola says Windham would likely receive $715,000 while Grafton could get $285,000.
Other concerns raised by the town leaders include utilities’ lack of need for purchasing additional wind power, Iberdrola’s $27 million fine from Spain’s National Markets and Competition Commission and the higher cost of wind power.
Seawright said it may take change in the November election to return power back to towns.
“The fact is, the Vermont government is hell bent on getting these things where they sited in the right place or not,” he said. “I have always voted for Democrats, (but) now I’m more concerned about the Democrats than the Republicans. The Democrats here seem to be exploiting the countryside.”
Iberdrola representatives have said the company would respect a public vote regarding the project.
Seawright said some board members are more sympathetic to the project. Watchdog attempted to interview all board members in Windham and Grafton, but only Pilette, Seawright and Al Sands, vice-chair of the Grafton Board, responded in time for this story.
“My guess is there are still many folks that are undecided,” said Sands. “There is very much conflicting information. Some of it is hard to sort out. Concerns for one side are all the same concerns that have been raised in other places.”
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