Swanton Wind is “pausing” development, according to a press release its developers issued late Monday. The press release said Swanton Wind’s developers will withdraw its application for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Utility Commission (PUC), effectively ending the project for the time being.
The announcement from the project’s spokesperson Nick Charyk, cited proposed federal tax changes and an unpredictable permitting process as the reasons for the withdrawal.
The project’s many opponents greeted the decision as good news this morning.
“I think this is great news for the community,” Swanton selectboard chair Joel Clark said this morning. “We’re very pleased with the result.”
“Everybody I talked to was opposed to the project,” he said, adding he’d talked with many residents about the project over the past two years.
“In general, this is really great news, because this is such a bad project,” said Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group that opposes large scale wind projects.
In her comments this morning, Smith emphasized that the project is paused not halted. However, the Belisles would have to begin the process of seeking a permit – a process that has already consumed two years – all over again.
The project’s developers, Travis and Ashley Belisle, proposed the project in 2015. It would have generated up to 20 megawatts of power from up to seven turbines up to 499 feet tall. “A prudent business must manage risk to an acceptable level,” Charyk said, in the press release. “Unfortunately, a confluence of factors has combined to create an unacceptable level of business risk.
Uncertainty around the federal tax policies that drive the economics of independent power projects like Swanton Wind have significantly impacted project financing.”
“Here in Vermont, the project currently faces a hostile environment from an administration opposed to wind energy, regulators, and monopoly utilities who import a majority of Vermont’s power while opposing many independent local power projects,” Charyk added.
Residents near the project’s proposed site atop Rocky Ridge, Christine and Dustin Lang, opposed the project’s construction as soon as it was announced. The Langs purchased their home from the Belisles, and their contract included a notice of the Belisles’ intention to, someday, build a wind farm, but the Langs said that notice was not adequate preparation for the size and location of the facility.
Their opposition tied in with statewide opposition to industrial wind, including Smith, and created a growing opposition among Swanton residents. The town selectboard ultimately opposed the project, and residents voted 731-160 against the project in a purely symbolic vote in November 2015.
Swanton Town budgeted $10,000 for legal fees to fight the project, with the Fairfield and St. Albans Town also committing funds to the opposition.
“It truly was a team effort,” said Clark, who thanked Fairfield, St. Albans and local legislators for their assistance.
Clark also stated that the town’s opposition was to the siting process, not the Belisles. “They were doing what they thought was within the regulations,” he said.
After about a year and a half, the Northwest Regional Planning Commission also voted to oppose the project, just as its PUC review process – the regulatory process determining whether the project could move forward with construction – began.
In late June, the PUC ordered Swanton Wind to complete a system impact study (SIS), a lengthy and expensive study into how Swanton Wind’s interconnection with the broader regional electric circuit would affect utilities and customers. Swanton Wind has been silent since then, submitting one update per month on its SIS until Monday’s announcement.
The PUC’s study order said the region of Swanton Wind’s proposed siting “experiences transmission capacity issues that can lead to curtailment of existing generation facilities, a situation that can be influenced by the proposed project.”
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