Rutland Town Planning Commissioners want to know what the Grandpa’s Knob Community Wind Project will look like at night, how it will sound and what its true visual impacts will be.
Sam Carlson, a representative for the project, met with the Planning Commission on Dec. 16. On Tuesday, Planning Commission Chair Barbara Noyes Pulling updated the Select Board about the talk and where things stand with the project, which is planned to be on Grandpa’s Knob in Castleton, but visible to varying degrees from other towns.
“We had a pretty interesting discussion last week with a rep of the wind project for Grandpa’s Knob, and it turns out, through some of the mapping he shared with us, that there are quite a few more towns that actually are in the viewshed,” said Pulling. “They include Rutland Town, the city, Clarendon, Wallingford and Mendon, and I bring this up because the southeastern part of town has a pretty good view of Grandpa’s Knob and in their mapping the color code how much can be seen from a certain area and off Cold River Road and down at Route 7 and Middle Road, just at the Clarendon line, there’s maybe some significant views of the proposed turbine.”
The project is backed by wind developer David Blittersdorf who wants to build a single 1.5 megawatt wind turbine on Grandpa’s Knob as a working memorial to the world’s first megawatt-sized wind turbine, which was built on the knob by Palmer Putnam in the 1940s. He plans to share half the annual net profits from the turbine with the impacted towns. The turbine would be about 300-feet high with 143-foot blades.
“We know all the towns went through a rather agonizing experience back in 2012 when a developer was proposing 20 wind turbines along that northern Taconic mountain ridge line,” said Carlson at the Dec. 16 meeting. “This is not that. This is a single turbine, 1.5 megawatts.”
Carlson repeated much of what he’s said at previous public meetings on the project, which won’t file for a permit for at least another year. He said the access road leading up to the project site won’t need much work done to accommodate construction vehicles besides the widening of a single hairpin turn. Vegetation would need to be cleared around the site itself. The tower will go on a concrete slab, but more studying of the rock there has to be done to determine how that will work.
The developers have argued that visual impacts will be minimal, given the proposed turbine’s proximity to an existing 300-foot communications tower and associated power lines.
Many of the documents the company has shared with towns can be found online at grandpasknobcommunitywind.com, including maps showing where the project might be seen from.
“We’re trying to be as transparent as we can be about what this thing is going to look like from different views,” said Carlson.
Planning Commissioner Jerry Stearns wasn’t convinced the visuals people are being shown are accurate. He said the communications tower there now is quite visible from Cold River Road, and while the turbine would be behind that, he believes the pictures predicting what the project will look like won’t reflect reality.
“I don’t know that it’s intentional, it’s just not even close to what’s going to be showing there,” he said.
Carlson said T.J. Boyle Associates was hired to create the visuals and is a reputable company. He told the commission he would get more visual mockups from the locations it requested. He said he would also research what the tower would look like at night. It will need to have a light on it, but the light will go on the tower, not the blades. He said some offshore projects have lights that detect the sounds made by aircraft and only turn on when they’re near. It’s possible that could be done here, Vermont law permitting.
Carlson also said the state has rather stringent requirements on noise. That, the lighting, the visuals and impacts on birds and bats will all have to be studied as part of the permitting process.
Many of the towns developers have spoken to have said the project doesn’t comply with their town plans. The Rutland County Regional Planning Commission has also said it doesn’t line up with the regional plan. Carlson was asked about this by the commissioners.
“The answer is ‘yes,’ we do understand that,” he said. “We have read all the town plans and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission plan. We think this particular project complies with those plans.”
Again, he noted it’s one turbine, not several.
“This is not a commercial wind project whose aim is to maximize profits,” he said. “We’re talking about sharing as much of the revenue as we can after covering our costs with the surrounding community, and we’ve shared with Castleton some initial projections about what that revenue sharing would look like.”
Asked about the turbine’s impact on wildlife, Carlson said he met with the Rutland County Audubon Society recently, which had concerns about birds and bats. According to Carlson, using data from other wind projects in the state, a single turbine kills between two and 12 birds per year.
“So let’s say 10 per year, based on Vermont history with other wind turbines, we could assume maybe 10 birds and 10 bats a year are to get killed by the turbine,” he said, adding that a study on bird and bat deaths will have to be done specifically for this site.
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