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New twist in controversy over Vermont wind projects

SWANTON, Vt. – It will be at least a year before a proposed seven-turbine wind project in Swanton could begin generating power, but it’s already generating plenty of debate. Thursday, the developers filed for state approval.

“Today, we are proud to take another step in the long process in seeking approval for our wind energy project,” Ashley Belisle said.

Travis and Ashley Belisle say the turbines will generate enough power for 7,300 households and contribute to the state’s efforts to achieve renewable energy from the landscape.

One neighbor in close proximity to the project stood with developers Thursday. But a new offer of buyouts for homeowners within 3,000 feet of a turbine has done little to soften the criticism from nearby opponents.

“My knee-jerk reaction is they’ve admitted there’s a problem,” said Christine Lang, a neighbor and opponent of the project.

Lang would live in the shadow of the project. She’s been outspoken in her concerns about noise, construction and environmental impacts.

“The project is so wrong for so many reasons,” she said.

Lang and several of her neighbors spent days at the Statehouse pushing for local veto power for unpopular renewable energy projects. Instead, lawmakers and the governor promised “substantial deference” so long as a community develops a plan of its own for where projects should go.

Swanton Select Board members say they’re working on tweaking their old renewable energy plan to conform with the new law.

“Our whole board is for green energy but we are against the wind project,” said Danny Billado of the Swanton Selectboard.

Swanton’s select board and planning board voted unanimously against the project last year. And more than 800 voters said “no” by a 5-1 margin.

“We will take the will of the voters to the Public Service Board,” said Joel Clark, the chair of the Swanton Selectboard.

Developers say they’re convinced of the project’s merits despite the seeming lack of support in town. They argue there’s a silent majority of support in town, they just aren’t on the boards and didn’t vote in the referendum.

“We still feel very confident that we can build this project successfully and contribute to Vermont’s renewable energy goals,” Travis Belisle said.

People and towns aren’t the only ones unenthusiastic about the project. Spokespeople for both Green Mountain Power and Burlington Electric Department tell us they’re not interested in buying any power generated by it. But depending on the Public Service Board’s decision, the utilities may be forced into the purchase.