CASTLETON – A wind developer wants to put a single turbine atop Grandpa’s Knob and share the profits with surrounding towns that might be affected.
Sam Carlson, speaking on behalf of David Blittersdorf, told the Castleton Select Board at its Sept. 27 meeting that Grandpa’s Knob Community Wind is nine to 12 months away from filing for a permit with the Public Utility Commission, but that it plans to share more information about the project, specifically visual simulations and financial data, with Castleton and other towns in the coming months.
Grandpa’s Knob Community Wind LLC, according to the Secretary of State, is owned by Blittersdorf, president and chief executive officer of AllEarth Renewables, based in Williston. According to his LinkedIn profile, he’s also a managing member at Aeolus Labs, a wind tunnel calibration lab based in Bristol; a managing member of Georgia Mountain Community Wind LLC; founder and owner of NRG Systems Inc, a wind measuring equipment company; and founder and owner of Earth Turbines Inc, a residential-scale wind research and development company. He also has been behind a project to bring rail service back to parts of Vermont.
“This is not the 2012, seven miles of ridge line, 20 wind turbines, new roads, new infrastructure, new power lines, blasting; this is not that,” said Carlson, referring to a project proposed several years ago by Reunion Power that drew heavy opposition from the surrounding communities and was never constructed. Blittersdorf was not the developer behind that project.
According to Carlson, Blittersdorf wants to build a single turbine as a way of honoring Palmer Putnam, who built the Smith–Putnam wind turbine on Grandpa’s Knob in 1941. It was the first megawatt-sized wind project to be tied to an electrical grid. Carlson claimed that Blittersdorf, who grew up in Pittsford, met Putnam in the early 1970s, and that the project is one of the reasons Blittersdorf became interested in the wind industry.
“He wants to honor that legacy by putting up a wind turbine there,” said Carlson.
Carlson told the Castleton board that he’s spoken to the Select Board in Hubbardton, and plans to talk with the boards in Proctor, Pittsford and West Rutland.
He said the project will be in the state’s standard offer program, which guarantees above-market rates for renewable energy projects.
Proctor Town Manager Michael Ramsey said Monday that the matter is on the agenda for the Oct. 11 meeting, though that agenda hasn’t yet been approved. He said Carlson is slated to speak with the board at its Oct. 25 meeting.
Carlson is on the agenda for Wednesday’s meeting of the Pittsford Select Board, said Town Manager John Haverstock. He said he expects people with concerns about the project to attend.
One of those people is Lisa Wright, who, along with others, was against the 2012 project. She said Monday that 10 people have confirmed they’ll show up, but she’s hoping for more as a way to send a message that this project, despite being one turbine, isn’t wanted.
Carlson told the Castleton Select Board a few details about the project.
“You all know there’s a communications tower up there now, a 310-foot communications tower that services (television), cell phones, radio, what have you. There’s an existing road, a truck-ready road, that goes up there now. There are power lines that go up there now, so the great advantage of Grandpa’s Knob is there is existing infrastructure, so in terms of disturbance to the ridge line, this is already disturbed and developed ridge line, we’re not talking about going anywhere else, except Grandpa’s Knob,” he said.
He said the 1.5-megawatt tower, not counting blades, would be just under 300 feet tall. It would be installed below the “knob,” so it would be lower than the communications tower. The sweep of the blades is 143 feet above the base tower, he said.
“We know that there’s likely to be opposition to the project,” he said. “There’s a cost, there’s a perceived cost to seeing a wind turbine on top of Grandpa’s Knob. My objective is to engage in dialogue and negotiation with the five surrounding towns, but mainly with the town of Castleton, because Grandpa’s Knob is located in the town of Castleton and would go up in the town of Castleton.”
He said it’s not clear how visible the turbine would be from Proctor, Pittsford and West Rutland.
The company, according to Carlson, would take one half of the annual net operating profit from the turbine and put that into a fund that would be distributed among the towns impacted, who would negotiate who gets how much.
Carlson said how much money towns would receive depends on project costs, which, right now, are fairly unknown, given that construction, should permits be awarded, wouldn’t begin for another 18 to 24 months.
“I know what the revenue is going to be because we have a pretty good idea of what that turbine will generate in terms of electricity, and under the standard offer program it’s 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour. Multiply 4 million kilowatt hours a year by 11.6 cents per kilowatt hour and my gross revenue is somewhere around $440,000 a year,” he said. “I think it’s a very conservative estimate that there will be $100,000 a year in years one through 10, as net profit.”
Assuming the project has a 10-year loan, after that the $100,000 would double. After the standard offer rate expires in 20 years, he figured the net profit might rise to $300,000, meaning the fund for towns would sit at around $150,000.
“Our intent would be to be fully transparent about what that net operating profit is,” said Carlson, suggesting that an independent accounting firm be hired for a report on the turbine’s profits.
“From a developer standpoint that’s a fairly strong statement that they’re not doing this to make money,” said Carlson.
“They’re doing this because they want to honor Palmer Putnam who put up the Grandpa’s Knob turbine in 1941 and this is something that’s meaningful to him. He doesn’t want to lose money; he won’t do the project if he’s going to lose money … If he wanted to make money, he’d take that turbine and go put it in Iowa or Texas or anywhere else … He’s doing it because of the history that’s here.”
He said the company is working on digitizing records from when the Putnam wind turbine was built in the hopes there might be a museum or center dedicated to it.
Carlson said he wasn’t asking the board for any comments or commitments and would return in January with more information.
According to Wright, the last wind project proposed for that ridge line was voted against by all four towns impacted, who put in their town plans that they didn’t want industrial-scale wind.
“We don’t understand why we are having to discuss a new project,” Wright said. “Our primary objection is we already said no to this. How many times do we have to say no to this?”
She called this project needlessly divisive and described the proposed payments to towns as “bribes.”
“We are still healing from that and how divisive that was within our communities,” Wright said.
Wright said that while only one turbine is being proposed, there still could be unacceptable impacts to views, noise and property values.