The very first commercial wind project on U.S. Forest Service land is underway in southern Vermont.
The Deerfield Wind project will bring 15 turbines to the Green Mountain National Forest in Searsburg and Readsboro.
And at a groundbreaking ceremony Monday, critics and opponents came out to weigh in on the project.
It’s the first agreement in the country between wind developers and the forest service, so there’s a lot of interest in the project.
“This project will set huge precedent for these things to go up in National Forest, and it’s a huge mistake,” says Mike Fairneny, who lives near the Hoosac Wind project in Florida, Massachuetts.
Fairneny drove over to the Vermont site Monday to protest the project.
More than two dozen protesters came out from around Vermont and New England to voice their opposition to the project, which has been wrapped up in the courts for more than 10 years.
The Vermont Department of Fish and Wildlife opposed the project, saying it would impact important bear feeding grounds.
But ultimately, the developer got the go-ahead after agreeing to conserve bear habitat away from the proposed site.
Robin Clark lives near the Kingdom Community Wind Project in northern Vermont.
She followed the negotiations between the state and the wind developers, though Clark says it was clear from the start that the turbines would be allowed regardless of their impact on bear habitat.
“This is public land and it should not be developed,” she says. “It’s a huge detriment to the wildlife, and we’re naive to think that we had state agencies that would protect this land. And they haven’t done their job.”
The Vermont State Police kept the protesters away from the groundbreaking at the top of the hill, where Gov. Peter Shumlin talked about the project.
While the crowd was kept away from the event, Shumlin spoke directly to their concerns.
“I couldn’t be here with more enthusiasm,” Shumlin said. “If we don’t think that wind, sited properly, is in Vermont’s best interest, you’re not looking at the evidence. It grows jobs, it reduces rates and it puts money in Vermonters’ pockets. I don’t know what else we could ask for.”
The Deerfield project is being built by Avangrid Renewables, a subsidiary of the Spanish energy company Iberdrola Renewables, which also wants to build a wind project in Grafton and Windham.
Shumlin acknowledged the developers, and local officials from the towns of Readsboro and Searsburg, who stuck with the project through the 12 years of permitting.
The development is expected to bring in about $400,000 in direct payments to the two towns, and another $300,000 to the state in annual tax payments.
John Sinclair, supervisor of the Green Mountain National Forest, says the forest service will have a full-time administrator on site monitoring soil runoff and tree-cutting as the turbines are being built.
“We’re going to be working closely with Avangrid to monitor the construction phase and the various resources,” Sinclair says. “We’ll to make sure that it’s protected and that we’re mitigating the resources and the land as necessary for the American public.”
The company says construction on the 30-megawatt wind project in the Green Mountain National Forest will take about 18 months, and the project is expected to be online by the end of 2017.
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