READSBORO, Vt. – And with the quick toss of dirt, an $80-million wind power project in Searsburg and Readsboro is underway.
“We are here to develop projects that change the world,” said Tim Seck with Avangrid Renewables.
Avangrid, a subsidiary of Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables, will build the 15 turbines in the Green Mountain National Forest, which on this day was blanketed with heavy fog cover. It’s the first large-scale commercial wind project on U.S. Forest Service land in the country.
“We will pay over $6.8 million in taxes to the towns of Searsburg and Readsboro. We will also pay over $6 million into the Vermont general education fund,” Seck said.
Governor Peter Shumlin took part in Monday’s groundbreaking, which due to a lengthy permitting process has been 12 years in the making. When it’s operational in 2018, the turbines will produce enough electricity to power 14,000 homes. Green Mountain Power has agreed to a long-term contract.
“We have got to do a lot more of this, not a lot less of this,” Shumlin said. The governor says his administration has helped grow wind power by 22 times during his time in office. He says it represents the future of the state.
However, on this rain-soaked day, it is clear that not everyone agrees. A couple dozen protestors greeted Shumlin as he arrived. Opposition to the 80-acre project varies. “it is inefficient, it is expensive, and it does nothing for climate change. We should be weatherizing homes and changing our driving patterns,” said Steve Wright, a Craftsbury resident and former Commissioner of Vermont Fish and Wildlife.
“Our landscape supports our tourist economy. Our landscape is why we live here. Our landscape is essential to our environment and we are destroying it,” said David Kelley of Greensboro.
The protestors held signs on the access road to the site, but were not allowed up to the event. That included State Representative Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, who sits on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, and has been outspoken about giving towns more say in where projects like this are located. “And not being allowed to just walk in and listen to what is happening up here, I find abominable,” She said.
“Whenever you have change you have some protests, but my protest is this – climate change is destroying the planet. We have made a terrible mess for our kids and grand kids. We have got to build out renewables in a thoughtful way,” Shumlin said.
And Shumlin says that includes minimizing potential impacts on wildlife. The development’s possible affects on bear and bat habitat have also come under fire. “We have mitigation measures set up, and we will have a permit administrator throughout the course of the construction phase,” said USFS Forest Supervisor John Sinclair.
The company has also pledged $1 million towards habitat management, but clearly for some that still isn’t enough.