There are no longer any large wind projects in development in Vermont, pausing the passionate debate over wind turbine siting that had animated communities and political campaigns only a few years ago.
The developers of Dairy Air Wind, which was planned as a single turbine on a dairy farm in the Northeast Kingdom town of Holland, announced Jan. 16 that they would stop all development activity, citing “a current political environment that is hostile to wind energy.”
The project, led by David Blittersdorf of AllEarth Renewables had been seeking approval from the Public Utility Commission, known as a certificate of public good, since 2016. Dairy Air Wind originally pitched a 2.2-megawatt project but later received permission to scale plans down to 1.5 megawatts, according to the Caledonian Record.
Blittersdorf said in a statement that there had been more than a dozen wind projects in the pipeline in 2012. Dairy Air is the most recent project to pull the plug following the cancellation of Swanton Wind in 2017.
“This is truly a sad state of affairs for Vermont,” Blittersdorf said.
Where are the wind projects in Vermont?
Vermont has five large wind projects in operation, according to the Energy Action Network:
- Deerfield Wind in Searsburg and Readsboro (15 turbines, 30 megawatts).
- Georgia Mountain in Milton (4 turbines, 10 megawatts).
- Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell (21 turbines, 63 megawatts).
- Sheffield Wind in Sheffield (16 turbines, 40 megawatts).
- Searsburg Wind Farm in Searsburg (11 turbines, 6 megawatts).
Solar has outstripped wind in Vermont’s energy landscape. As of last year, wind in Vermont could generate 150 megawatts of power, half the capacity of the 300 megawatts associated with solar, according to the Vermont Public Service Department.
What led to the wind dropoff?
Economics, politics and state and federal policies have combined to make wind development more difficult. Wind projects in Vermont have generated stiff public opposition over aesthetic, sound and environmental concerns.
In 2015, Blittersdorf told the Associated Press that uncertainty about federal tax credits had led to “a little hibernation” for wind developers.
Later that year, Phil Scott launched his first campaign for governor and called for a moratorium on new ridgeline wind projects.
In 2016, the Legislature and Gov. Peter Shumlin asked the Public Utility Commission to createstatewide rules on wind turbine sound.
As governor, Scott was unable to convince the Legislature to pass a legislative moratorium on wind projects. Scott’s second year in office was a milestone in the decline of wind energy.
The Public Utility Commission proposed tighter restrictions on wind turbine noise as well as a setback requirement for turbines, which the governor supported, and Scott appointed a new chief regulator who shared his views on ridgeline wind.
Legislators rejected the setback rule but approved the new noise limits, and the developers of Swanton Wind withdrew their application later that year. The developers blamed uncertainty around federal tax policy, the Scott administration’s opposition, and the new rules.
Annette Smith, who has opposed large wind projects as executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said in an interview she believes the decline of wind had little to do with the governor.
“Wind energy is a failed technology in Vermont because it has to be built on our mountains, and the costs are greater than the benefits,” Smith said. “When Vermonters are given a choice, they say no to wind.”
Where does this leave Vermont and its climate change goals?
Vermont is striving to source 25% of its power needs from renewable sources by 2025, and 90% from renewable sources by 2050. Gov. Scott supports both goals.
The state’s current energy plan says that wind power should continue to be an important part of Vermont’s energy portfolio, but that to address concerns the state should focus primarily on smaller projects and those directed by local communities.
Another goal would have Vermont cut greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. The state has failed to cut emissions at all: Emissions were 13% above the 1990 baseline in 2016, the most recent data available.
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