SWANTON – Gov. Phil Scott has offered his administration’s support to the Town of Swanton through the Public Service Board’s review of Swanton Wind.
The Town of Swanton Selectboard wrote to the Governor in February, expressing concerns that the project would destroy the “scenic beauty” of Swanton’s ridgelines, that it would have adverse effects on local wildlife and wetlands, and that the power is not locally needed. That specialists in these fields have testified the opposite has not appeased Swanton town officials’ concerns.
In Gov. Scott’s response, dated March 6, Scott wrote that he has directed officials in the Department of Public Service and the Agency of Natural Resources to “review [the selectboard’s] recommendations and take the appropriate steps to ensure that [those officials] have sufficient expertise and resources to thoroughly review and critique all aspects of [Swanton Wind’s] petition” before the Public Service Board, which is a separate body from the Department of Public Service.
“As you may be aware, I have had an active interest in this issue and have made clear that the potential host community’s perspective should be an important one when considering proposed energy generation projects,” Scott wrote.
“In addition, it is my view – and the policy of my administration – that the development of our ridgelines for the purpose of industrial wind projects is not appropriate or necessary to meet our state’s renewable energy goals.”
That’s a position without scientific substantiation, according to Swanton Wind attorney Anthony Iarrapino. “We have yet to see a plan produced by energy experts showing how Vermont can meet its ambitious and important renewable energy goals without including wind power in the mix,” Iarrapino said.
He said that “wind power fills a critical gap that hydro and solar alone cannot meet,” because of high electrical demand during Vermont’s winters, when rivers freeze and sunlight becomes scarcer. “Similarly, wind power is critical to helping break the addiction to fossil fuels in the six-state New England electric grid that includes Vermont.”
But Swanton selectboard chair Joel Clark said Swanton town officials’ concerns are specific to Swanton Wind. He said the project’s Public Service Board application “has many shortcomings from a renewable energy and a natural resource perspective.”
Clark did not specify those shortcomings, but they are likely the areas about which nearly 100 community members questioned the project’s representatives during a Public Service Boardhosted informational session in Swanton’s Village Municipal Complex in early February. That threehour session illustrated the fundamental difference in perspectives between the project’s fervent opponents and its developers. Questions about the proposed turbines’ potential “flicker effect” and the danger of upgraded transmission lines left project attorneys and scientists baffled, while community members perceived purposeful lack of communication on Swanton Wind’s part left community members outraged.
At various points in the night, both sides of the argument complained that the other was unwilling to listen.
That Scott is makes a big difference, Clark
said. “This response is much different than the one we received from the previous administration,” he said in an email. “The prompt and succinct response to our letters is not only consistent with our stance on Swanton Wind’s [Public Service Board] application, it also supports our request to have the Agency of Natural Resources and the Department of Public Service look at and thoroughly review those areas of the application that we have concerns about.”
Iarrapino said project representatives were not surprised by Scott’s response. “The Governor’s letter is consistent with his well-known campaign positions,” Iarrapino said. “It doesn’t really say anything new on the topic of wind power generally or anything specific to Swanton Wind.”
But “by admitting that the town [of Swanton] has no experts of its own regarding the key issues in the case, the letters demonstrate that the town’s position is and always has been based in fear rather than facts,” Iarrapino said. “The letters confirm that town officials rushed to judgment early in the process and remain unwilling to fairly assess information carefully gathered and presented by Swanton Wind at numerous public forums.”
Swanton Wind is in the midst of its Public Service Board review, the ideal outcome of which – for the project’s developers, Swanton residents Travis and Ashley Belisle, whose home would border the constructed turbines – is a Certificate of Public Good, essentially permitting the project’s construction.
Exactly how long that process will take is ever more up in the air. Though the board’s review was initially scheduled to run through October, that schedule has been repeatedly revised, most recently last week, when the board postponed a deadline for discovery questions by two weeks.
It now seems likely that process will stretch through to the end of 2017, leaving the project’s ultimate fate uncertain until then.