READSBORO- Close to 10 years after the regulatory process for a large-scale wind project was initiated, the Deerfield Wind project will have its ground-breaking ceremony on Monday, September 19, in Searsburg. At the selectboard meeting, board members expressed their pleasure that the project would soon be benefiting the town.
“After years of hearings, legal action, and permitting since 2006, the construction is finally going to begin in October and hopefully all (seven) windmills in Readsboro will be up and running at the end of 2017,” said board member Teddy Hopkins.
The long regulatory path included overcoming hurdles in the last month related to decommissioning funds and the mitigation of the loss of beech tree stands, which are bear habitat. In a letter dated July 22, 2015, the Vermont Department of Public Service told the Public Service Board that Deerfield Wind needed to implement a decommissioning plan that it had previously submitted. According to the letter, “The Department’s review indicates that Deerfield has not met this condition.” The DPS noted that the company had submitted a “Form of Letter of Credit,” referred to as a draft in its filing, but that in the eyes of the DPS, this was insufficient. “It is our position that the draft does not fully implement the Decommissioning Plan until the letter of credit is in place. The draft is in essence a blank form with typical terms and conditions for an irrevocable standby letter of credit but without specifics such as the issuer, effective dates and dollar amounts.”
On July 12, Deerfield Wind LLC filed a fully executed letter of credit for a little more than $2 million, and on August 8 the PSB decided that this fully met the decommissioning funding requirements.
Iberdrola, which is the multinational parent company of Deerfield Wind LLC, received its certificate of public good in 2009, despite some opposition at that time from the department of fish and wildlife. According to Forrest Hammond, Black Bear Project Leader for Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources’ Department of Fish and Wildlife, one of the primary concerns that the department had, in addition to the clearing of trees, was that windmills that are hundreds of feet tall could disturb the bears, causing them to abandon the beech trees, an important natural food source.
Hammond said that in autumn, bears in Vermont will climb up beech trees and feed on the nuts before they fall off the tree.
“Their claw marks on the beech trees are visible from a distance,” said Hammond. “Red marks going up the tree suggest recent feeding, and black marks indicate older feeding. This location is one of the most heavily concentrated stands of beechnuts that we know of that is utilized by bears in Vermont.”
The multi-year study, paid for by Deerfield Wind, is a condition of the 2009 certificate of public good, and will attempt to determine to what extent the bears are displaced by the turbine project. “We are pleased to be working on this with them (the staff of Iberdrola),” said Hammond. “Although we initially opposed the project we have accepted that they are receiving both state and federal permits to do it. They have paid for a bear study and are doing other mitigation steps to comply with their permit conditions. We don’t have an adversarial relationship with Iberdrola, quite the opposite, really. We are going to be able to do a one-of-a-kind multi-year study and we are excited about that.”
In the August 8 determination, the PSB noted that Deerfield Wind was required to provide $1 million to fund the conservation or purchase of land and the continuation of the bear study. The board stated that 100 acres of remote, high elevation, concentrated beech stands had been identified that was slated for conservation in Stratton. Deerfield Wind is required by the PSB to conserve 144 acres of bear habitat. If the easement in Stratton is counted toward the total acreage required, 44 acres of land that have yet to be identified will also need to be conserved. The board acknowledged that it was possible the Stratton conservation easement might not be successfully implemented, and that participants in the easement might not agree to inclusion of bear habitat conservation measures. The board also acknowledged that the ANR had had difficulty finding suitable parcels of land. “The timing is likely to be such that not all of the required mitigation acreage will be identified and/or conserved prior to construction and operation of the project.”
However, the board also said conservation of suitable parcels with beech trees will generally include the purchase of surrounding land for access by the bears, and the ANR had testified that it believed that a “better outcome than conservation of 144 acres” would result from the acceptance of the proposed mitigation. The PSB ruled that Deerfield Wind had met the requirements of this stipulation.
“My reaction is (this is) great,” Hopkins said. Board member Dave Marchegiani and chair Helyn Strom-Henriksen nodded their heads in agreement. “If all goes well, the first year of operation should yield a minimum of $154,000 a year into the municipal budget, which is the equivalent of 19% of our taxation coming from the Readsboro taxpayers.” Hopkins said these payments could benefit the town in ways that went beyond merely a tax savings. “As far as expanding the Readsboro tax base, we will now begin to see a steady flow of revenue for various projects over the years. Studies have been done for a new town garage and new town office. We will now easily be able to match grant funds for recreation, infrastructure, and beautification.” According to Hopkins, the revenues could result in economic development for the town, “It is my belief Readsboro will soon be able to compete with area towns to attract new small businesses and experience a new wave of growth.”
Hopkins also said that the amount of time for the permitting process to reach completion “made my eyes roll in my head. It’s a shame anything takes this long in this country.”
Gov Peter Shumlin will be attending the ground-breaking ceremony, which will be hel at 37 Putnam Road in Searsburg on Monday, September 19, at 11 am.
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