SWANTON – The Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) voted to participate in the Public Service Board (PSB)’s upcoming hearings regarding the Swanton Wind Project during the NRPC’s project review meeting Wednesday evening.
Swanton Wind submitted its application to the PSB in September, seeking a Certificate of Public Good, allowing the project to begin construction. The PSB’s regulatory process starts with a pre-hearing on Oct. 20, during which parties seeking to actively participate in the PSB process – providing testimony and partaking in evidentiary hearings – may apply for “intervenorship,” formal recognition from the board.
The NRPC voted to do just that at last night’s meeting, held in the Swanton Village Complex. There was no indication, however, of whether the NRPC will oppose or support the project.
NRPC member Bill Irwin chaired the meeting. He explained that the NRPC evaluates local projects based on two factors: the project’s conformity with the NRPC’s regional plan, and whether the project might have a substantial regional impact.
Travis and Ashley Belisle, the Swanton Wind Project’s developers, sat in one row of the audience with Martha Staskus, the Vice President of Vermont Environmental Research Associates (VERA), and Dori Barton, the owner and lead ecologist of Arrowwood Environmental. The project’s opponent base, most residents of the area around the proposed turbine site, sat in the front row.
Staskus and Barton summarized the project’s studies, as they did for the Swanton Planning Commission in August. Staskus said the project has reached out to several turbine manufacturers, but there were no specifics regarding which company would be responsible for the turbines as of yet. The Belisles plan to build up to seven turbines along Rocky Ridge, but that number has not been finalized.
Staskus told the NRPC the project would clear approximately 36 acres of land. She said the effect of that clearing, and of the project’s construction and operation, had been meticulously studied through bird and bat studies, cultural research, civil engineering studies, electrical studies, archaeological studies, economic studies and studies conducted by landscape architects.
Barton emphasized that her firm’s research techniques do not vary from project to project – that its researchers used the same, objective scientific technique to gauge Swanton Wind’s potential effects as they would in any other project.
She also emphasized that the project had been re-designed, as a result of its numerous studies, to avoid adverse environmental effects. For example, the project has been designed to accommodate aquatic organism passage – or “for the critters,” as Barton put it, though she noted the project’s proposed site does not house a relative abundance of wildlife.
“Everyone involved is seeing this as a win from the wildlife perspective,” she said.
The project’s application is available online, in its entirety, on the project’s official website, swantonwindvt. com, including all the conducted studies and researchers’ resumes.
“As you’ll see in the application, we have met all the criteria required by the Public Service Board,” Staskus said.
NRPC member Chris Leach, who has also served on Swanton Village’s Board of Trustees for 20 years, said he is concerned about renewable energy’s effect on in-state electric rates. “Our goal should be to decrease the cost to corporations, to individuals, to make it more affordable,” he said.
Leach noted that the Swanton Dam is a 10 megawatt (mW) facility with frequent excess generation. The Swanton Wind Project could be up to 20 MW.
“There’s plenty of power available,” Leach said. “There’s power in New England in excess of what we need. Normally, ‘more’ means lower costs. The wholesale price today is the lowest it’s ever been. We can barely sell our excess.”
In the project’s application, VERA President John Zimmerman notes that the project will “contribute towards the long-term goals of the State of Vermont and its electric utilities,” including the Vermont Electric Cooperative, which could use a power purchase agreement with Swanton Wind to “alleviate upward pressure on retail electric rates.”
Exactly where the project’s power will go has not been determined, according to Zimmerman’s testimony, though the project is considering two options: a purchase agreement with Vermont Electric Power Producers (VEPP), out of Manchester Center, or a bid response to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which seeks Class I renewable energy resources between two and 20 MW.
The project’s representatives at the NRPC meeting did not have a response to Leach’s concerns.
There was concern over the project’s stormwater runoff, reiterating a concern raised by NRPC members when the Swanton Wind Project last appeared before the commission in Sept. 2015. The project will actually improve stormwater runoff around the project site, according to a study by engineering firm Krebs and Lansing, because there are currently no stormwater treatment facilities around the proposed site.
There was also concern over who would monitor the project site to ensure its compliance with its developer’s promises, specifically that a deeryard in the area would be improved through regular maintenance. Staskus said that would be the Agency of Natural Resources’ responsibility. When those in attendance expressed a lack of faith in state regulation, Staskus said, “I can’t speak for the state.”
Fairfield resident Sally Collopy sat in the audience among the project’s opponents. She disputed the project’s studies, arguing that her 26 years working in transportation taught her that a project “proposed to gut a mountain” can’t help but increase runoff. She also predicted the sound of the turbines, which state regulations say cannot exceed 43 decibels – the volume of a library’s ambient noise or a bird call, according to a Temple University/Federal Interagency Committee study – would carry over Fairfield Pond and ruin residents’ lives.
“This beautiful, amazing, migratory area will never ever be the same,” she said.
She recalled visiting Georgia Mountain Community Wind (GMCW), with friends, to find the natural area in shambles. She said GMCW administrators observed Collopy and friends doing so, and only cleaned up the premises prior to an open house event.
After the NRPC voted to seek intervenorship status in the PSB hearings, Irwin thanked both project personnel and project opponents.
“The variety of perspectives has been very helpful,” he said
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