SWANTON, Vt. – Facing the prospect of having seven 499-foot industrial turbines built on their prized Rocky Ridge hillside, local residents stood with Republican gubernatorial candidate Phil Scott to declare opposition to the project.
On Thursday, as wind energy developers Travis and Ashley Belisle filed an application for a certificate of public good with the Public Service Board, a crowd of residents, activists, state lawmakers and candidates for office stood with Scott as he doubled-down on his pledge to stop new wind energy projects in Vermont.
“I’m in favor of a complete ban on ridgeline development,” Scott said to much applause. “It’s very divisive, and we just don’t need that in Vermont.
“We need to come together, because I feel as though we need to be focusing on the economy, we need to focusing on jobs, we need to be focusing on other things besides this.”
If approved, the $40 million project would be built within a one-mile radius of 134 homes. The developers expect the project to deliver up to 20 megawatts of energy on windy days and generate about $150,000 in annual tax revenue for the town. Residents voted 731-160 to reject the project in a non-binding election last November.
Scott said if there were no alternatives to industrial wind then he could see a need for it, but he added that solar and other renewable technologies are advancing and wind is not. Lieutenant gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock, also on hand, said wind power is not the energy of the future.
“That’s one of the risks of doing a headlong rush into last century’s technology that’s only going to last into the middle of this century,” Brock said.
Some residents expressed worries that no amount of grassroots effort, or even legislative effort, will break the grip that wind energy lobbyists seem to have over Montpelier. Brock said he hears the same concern everywhere as he campaigns across Vermont.
“I’ve been to quite a number of the sites all over the state … and there’s a recurring theme throughout all of this: people feel that they have no power. People feel that they have a government that doesn’t listen to them.”
Scott cautioned that most Vermont residents do not live near big turbines and therefore tend to approve of wind energy development.
“If (wind developers) frame the question right, and they have the resources to do it, and they ask everyone across Vermont, ‘How do you feel about renewable energy and wind and so forth?’ The polls say we’re in favor of it.”
He added that if he wins the election he would use an executive order to stop new projects. Such a moratorium would likely last for as long as Scott remains in office. His opponent, Democrat Sue Minter, has been a strong advocate for wind energy development out on the campaign trail.
Brian Dubie, a local resident and Vermont’s former lieutenant governor, noted that Green Mountain Power opposes the project. Vermont’s top utility has no room in its portfolio to take on new wind power and wants to keep rates low for ratepayers, Dubie said.
“It has a negative impact when Vermonters are going to end up paying the bills for these things for decades,” he said.
Brock called the wind industry’s higher energy costs a “social justice issue.” He explained that low income Vermonters pay over 20 percent of their income on energy costs and would be hurt by expensive wind power. “For all intents and purposes, it’s Robin Hood in reverse,” he said.
Other concerns discussed at the gathering included the project’s impact on property values, wildlife, water runoff, turbine noise and more. Numerous residents noted that the rocky landscape would carry sound to more homes. Others said the use of renewable energy credits would cancel out any green benefits to the state.
Scott’s parting message was to not give up, to not be discouraged, and to know that he would do everything in his power as governor to put a halt on new projects.