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Renewable energy

By Rep. Carolyn Partridge

Monday February 25, 2013I don’t think I’ve met anyone who is opposed to the concept of developing renewable energy. Shifting away from the use of fossil fuels makes a lot of sense. They pollute our environment, cause climate change, and there is a finite supply. However, siting some forms of renewable generation — wind, for one — raises questions, and the issues of process and local control.

When I returned to Montpelier in January, I was concerned to hear stories from my colleagues who represent the Northeast Kingdom, Republicans and Democrats alike. They told me of constituents who had originally supported the development of wind now regretting it because of debilitating health effects.

In testimony to the Senate, James Rademacher, MD, a radiologist at Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC) with a degree in chemical engineering, described his concern for human health as a result of “infrasound.” He states, “Infrasound does not affect humans and animals in the same way audible noise does. It will not damage ears and cause people to go deaf. It does have an effect on the balance function of the inner ear. Infrasound has potential harmful affects through its seismic vibratory effects.” He goes on to say that not everyone is bothered in the same way.

Several people testifying reported sleep disturbance, sleep deprivation, and resulting depression. Sen. Bob Hartwell, chair of Senate Natural Resources, told me about testimony taken from a number of witnesses.

One couple, with the resources to do so, has abandoned their home. Not so fortunate is a young couple with children, who are trapped in their home with symptoms that are causing the family great distress. A man suffering from sleep disturbance went on vacation for three weeks and the symptoms disappeared – when he returned, so did the symptoms. It is clear there are unanticipated side effects that have appeared since the turbines started working.It seems that we lack the process necessary for properly vetting these projects. This is demonstrated by the fact that there has been a rush in the last few years to develop wind projects, several have already been built, and it is just recently (Oct. 2012) that the Vermont Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission was appointed to “survey best practices for siting approval.” It seems the cart has been before the horse.

There are those who fervently believe that wind is a part of the answer to Vermont’s electricity future, and it may be in some locations. This is why I have been reluctant to sign on to a moratorium. At the same time, we should remember that 97 percent of our electricity comes from non-fossil fuel sources. In fact, our carbon footprint is primarily the result of home heating and transportation.

Perhaps, focusing on thermal efficiency would make the most sense as we try to stem the tide on climate change. Every house we tighten up creates local jobs, stimulates the economy, keeps Vermonters warmer, lowers costs, and stops heating the outdoors. Dr. Rademacher from RRMC opines that the Legislature’s thermal efficiency program would be much more cost effective at reducing carbon dioxide than one wind project in the Northeast Kingdom.

When the conversation about wind began in Windham, I met with the company lobbyist and the project developer. At the end of the meeting, I asked what would happen if the people of the Town of Windham did not want the project in our town. I was assured that the company would not proceed. I have asked the same question twice more and been told the same thing. This may seem naïve on my part, but in Montpelier, one’s word is one’s bond and if someone does not tell the truth, their credibility is shot, at least for me.

The question arises as to what kind of control small towns have in these situations. Do our Town Plans (and don’t mistake Town Plans for municipal bylaws), dutifully worked on and renewed every five years, go out the window in these instances? What chance does a small town with a budget of $600,000 per year have against a large multi-national company with deep pockets and well-paid lawyers? If experience is any guide, even the state of Vermont has struggled when corporations go to court.

Rep. Tony Klein, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee believes that once a company has presented their detailed plan including the number and location of turbines, the financial benefits to the town, etc., that town should have the right to vote on whether the project gets built.

As one of my constituents who favors wind said recently, “The wind will always be there. Why not take the time to make sure we are doing things right?”

What is needed is a new process that works toward our goal of a fossil fuel free future; determines the best way to achieve that goal taking into consideration human health, the environment, and other factors; and respects the right of local Vermonters to control their future in their own homes.

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, is chairwoman of the House Agriculture Committee.


The giant footprints of wind projects

Feb 2, 2013   |  
 Ridge-top wind development can require a great deal of clearing, blasting, filling, and leveling changes the landscape. This April 19, 2012, photo shows construction activity at the 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind Project on Lowell Mountain.
Ridge-top wind development can require a great deal of clearing, blasting, filling, and leveling changes the landscape. This April 19, 2012, photo shows construction activity at the 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind Project on Lowell Mountain. / Photo courtesy of Steve Wright

Written by Lawrence Pyne, Outdoors

When it comes to industrial wind power, I am sorry to say I have been more of a ridge straddler than a mountain protector. But no longer.

Like many Vermonters, I am concerned about climate change and I support the development of renewable energy. That includes wind, even though it will do little to reduce Vermont’s carbon emissions. They are produced primarily by the gas that powers our cars and the oil that heats our homes, not the electricity that turns on our lights.

Still, wind should be part of the equation. Yet the more large-scale wind development I see on our mountaintops, the less I like it. Not the sight of the towers and turbines themselves, but the clearing, blasting, filling, leveling, grading and overall destruction that can be required to build high-elevation wind-tower pads, service roads and transmission lines.

God help our ridges if what happened to the Lowell Mountain Range is the first step in Vermont’s path to energy independence. Talk about a footprint. No one knows how many tons of explosives were used to build the 3.2-mile-long, 21-turbine Kingdom Community Wind project. Or at least no one who knows is willing to say.

But it wasn’t Lowell that finally pushed me off the fence. It was the developer behind the proposed Seneca Mountain Wind project in Brighton, Ferdinand and Newark.

Seneca Mountain and the other nearby summits that would be subject to the up to 40-turbine project are special. Not because they are in my backyard; they’re not, although I wish they were. They are special because they are among the wildest and most wildlife-rich ridges in Vermont.

They are home to moose, bear, deer, pine marten and very likely Canada lynx, among many other species, and their trail-less summits are unlike any others I’ve climbed in Vermont. They consist of remote stands of bear-scarred beech that give way to open, mountain-top groves of old, gnarly yellow birch and towering spruce interspersed with moss-covered glades that are a pleasure to hunt, hike and explore.

The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Conservation Group, a group of Northeast Kingdom hunters and anglers that know the area as well as anyone, opposes the project. They note it would despoil “one of the few wild areas left in Vermont” and diminish the public use of adjoining conserved lands, in which Vermonters have invested millions. (Read the full statement at

I was hoping Eolian, the developer behind Seneca Mountain Wind, would at least be sensitive to their concerns. Instead, in a power-point presentation to the Vermont siting commission that struck me as arrogant and dismissive, I encountered this stunning statement: “Preventing any impacts to bear habitat associated with renewable energy development while allowing bear hunting is a fundamental disconnect.”

Huh? Does Eolian really not understand the difference between preserving the habitat on which wildlife depends, and a management practice that produces public benefits and support for conservation while maintaining healthy, sustainable wildlife populations? And they’re experts on renewable resources?

What Eolian is suggesting is akin to saying that because we fish for Atlantic salmon, developers should be able to dam and divert rivers without regard to the needs of salmon. Well, that’s exactly what happened in the 1800s on the Connecticut River. Today there are no salmon to fish for, despite a decades-long restoration program that has cost tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The real disconnect here is between Vermont values and an out-of-state developer that wants to build the largest wind farm in Vermont, one that would forever alter more high-elevation habitat than either Kingdom Community Wind or the 17-turbine Sheffield wind farm.

So you can now count me among the growing number of Vermonters who support a bill in the General Assembly that would establish a three-year moratorium on wind development in Vermont.

Big-wind proponents say S.30 would send the wrong message. But there is nothing wrong with saying we value our undeveloped ridges and their wildlife habitats and intact watersheds. And that before we sacrifice our ridges for some greater good – and profit – we must make sure wind farms are thoughtfully sited where they will do the least harm. We should not leave it up to private developers, many of which have no roots in Vermont or are foreign owned.

An independent environmental research firm has begun a study of the Deerfield Wind project’s impact on bears before, during and after construction of 15 turbines slated to be built in Searsburg and Readsboro. The study was ordered by the Public Service Board, and it only makes sense to have that information in hand before allowing other wind farms to be built in similar high-elevation bear habitat.

I don’t understand the rush to green-light big-wind projects in Vermont, unless it’s driven by subsidies and tax breaks that are untenable, or by a concern that Vermonters might discover the emperor has no clothes. Many energy experts are skeptical of big wind’s actual benefits in Vermont, and one expert has gone so far as to describe the manner in which the state treats renewable energy credits from wind as “a sham” that makes them seem much greener than they are.

Shouldn’t we make sure the benefits are real before continuing to irrevocably change our ridge lines? That would be the Vermont way.



A third wave of destruction
February 03,2013
Vermont has rarely been kind to its mountains. Two historic waves of human destruction have battered them, each crest followed by a brief trough of recovery. With a new swell forming — mountaintop industrial wind — Vermonters may have a last, best opportunity to prevent a third wave of devastation.

By the mid-19th century, our forests were destroyed, eradicated by a mania for sheep and lumber. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, reflecting on the aftermath in 1963, wrote, “Not even in the cotton and tobacco belt were soils exhausted faster and forests mangled more thoroughly than on the hillsides of Vermont.” The first wave.

In the mid-20th century, Gov. George Aiken unleashed the ski industry, allowing the first ski towers to be built on  Mount Mansfield. Three decades later, Walter Hard Jr., the legendary editor of Vermont Life, asked plaintively “Shall Her Mountains Die?” His colleague Samuel Ogden, mourning “our mountain peaks … scarred with the worm-tracks of ski areas,” asked an environmentally existential question, “How long can we proceed along these easy ways before we do become ruined?” The second wave.

Now, in the early 21st century, a third wave is lapping at our summits and ridgelines. Have we learned nothing from our past?

Unfortunately, many industrial wind proponents, including a fair share of Vermont’s major environmental organizations, rationalize this ruin, arguing that Vermont must destroy its mountains in order to save them. They employ environmental relativism, justifying skinning our mountaintops for wind because West Virginia disembowels its mountains for coal. The odd boast “We are not West Virginia,” perversely reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook,” is neither compelling nor comforting. A dead deer, whether skinned or gutted, is still a dead deer.

Once upon a time in Vermont, there were people who revered our hills and mountains, drawing on them for spiritual strength. Clarence Cowles was one. A founder of the Green Mountain Club, Cowles closed a reminiscence celebrating its 50th anniversary with these words, “We will continue to raise our eyes to the hills,” echoing the words of Psalm 121: “I lift up mine eyes unto the hills; from whence cometh my help.”

Today, such sentiments seem quaint, such noble men anachronistic. Our mountains, rather than majestic sanctuaries, are diminished, little more than profit centers for foreign corporations, Wall Street firms and wind barons. Our hills are increasingly a detritus of water parks, roller coasters and other amusements, litter imported from urban America. Our ridges are calibrated in board-feet, vertical drop, kilowatts per hour and, ultimately, money.

Vermont’s mountains, while evoking the infinite, are undeniably finite. The high peaks of the Greens have already been damaged. Of the six Vermont mountains climbed by Benton MacKaye in 1900, when he envisioned creating the Appalachian Trail, only Camel’s Hump remains protected. The iconic Mount Mansfield, our most celebrated summit, is ironically our most ecologically compromised.

Now, the ridgelines parallel to the Greens are targets for 200 miles or more of blasting, bulldozing and road-building for industrial wind — the so-called Blittersdorf Buildout. What will be left? Will wind turbines become totems of deception high on our hills, ephemeral symbols of the delusion that technology will save us from generations of human folly, consumption and destruction? Will any politician acknowledge that climate change proves our easy ways are indeed ruining us, that there are no simple, painless solutions, and that further environmental damage is foolish?

It is time to pause, to reflect on our legacy of devastation and to determine what we will bequeath the future. It is time to answer Walter Hard’s hard question, “Shall her mountains die?” It is time to ask, despite our pretensions of environmental virtue, if mountain destruction is simply and sadly part of Vermont’s DNA.

Bruce S. Post writes and lectures on Vermont history. He was chief of staff for Rep. John B. Anderson of Illinois and state director for Sen. Robert Stafford of Vermont.


Johnson: Wind turbines on our mountains carry too high a price

March 29, 2012

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Charles W. Johnson, the retired Vermont State Naturalist and author of “The Nature of Vermont” and other books on natural history.
Huge wind turbines vs. the mountains. Environmentalists vs. environmentalists. An unfamiliar, uncomfortable fight is on.
I have been involved in conservation in Vermont for over 40 years, and this is the first time in my memory that two great environmental issues have collided head-on: growing concern about nonrenewable resources and climate change against growing concern about losing what we’ve worked so hard to save in Vermont’s landscape.
Why is this happening? I think because we have run into a serious ethical issue we have not taken time to consider adequately: How far should our little state’s finite and irreplaceable environment go – indeed, how far can it go – to deal with so huge an issue as worldwide climate change? What are we willing to sacrifice?
This fight is not just about that which can be weighed and solved by science, capacity studies, and permitting processes. It is also about how we relate to the land, physically, emotionally, spiritually. At its heart, it is about something we don’t talk about, especially in a political arena: love of the land.
Land is often treated as a collection of commodities, “natural resources,” for our use. Ownership of land is as a “bundle of rights” (e.g., development rights, rights-of-way, water rights, etc.) that can be bought or sold, singly or all together. Even Act 250 and other land-use laws work on this principle, with criteria to be considered before certain large developments can occur. So now with our ridgelines.
But how do we calculate what mountains mean to us in our long association, over lifetimes, over generations and generations of collective inherited memory? The very symbol of Vermont, the Green Mountains, is on our license plates, in songs, with names of businesses, even with our National Guard. They are part of our identity and self-image. They surround us. We look up to them and they inspire us. Are they just great heaps of “natural resources”?
Love of the land is real, even if it can’t be quantified. It is one of the most basic, universal human feelings, whether for a place we knew as children, our community, or our country. We wage wars over it. People give up their lives for it. Most people grieve deeply over the loss of a beloved place – too many times in my life have I heard, “I don’t want to go back there; I couldn’t stand to see what’s happened to it.”
I have witnessed in Vermont and elsewhere that we lose our wild lands and rural culture not in big chunks, but in little bits, incrementally. Death by a thousand cuts. More than 10 years ago, we were told not to worry, that very few mountains would be suitable for big wind. When we asked how many, where, we were shown maps and studies of generalities, but no one could tell us for sure. Ten years later we still don’t know, but we already have more than a “very few” and more are on the way.
So what to do?
I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but there are things to do even before we go after answers. We should keep in mind the Vermont we cherish: self-reliant, independent, protective of our special environment, small of size but big of heart. Along with “eating locally, buying locally,” we should try harder to get “energy locally” through conservation and efficiency, solar, wood and co-generation, small hydro, small-scale wind. We should stop and re-evaluate, community by community, based on what we’ve seen and felt so far.
Global climate change won’t go away in the next few years or decades, if it ever does. But our ridgelines certainly might, if we continue as we have. The Green Mountains have been here for more than 350 million years. Surely we owe it to them to slow down, take time to collect ourselves, and think about what they really mean to us.

Slayton: Lessons from Lowell

Wednesday, 01/11/12 7:55am

LISTEN (2:37)

MP3 | Download MP3 – Vermont Public Radio
 (Host) Commentator Tom Slayton has been thinking about how the controversy over Green Mountain Power’s plans to build a series of industrial-sized wind towers along the summit of the Lowell Mountains has sharply divided the Vermont environmental community.
(Slayton) It’s ironic. Big Wind projects in Vermont pit environmentalists who want to do everything possible to slow global climate change against environmentalists who love Vermont’s mountains. Mountain tops are where the wind blows most reliably, but such places are also the signature of the state, a part of every Vermonter’s aesthetic heritage. And in the Lowell Range that’s precisely where 20-plus wind towers will be – strung out along the summit.

It’s pretty obvious that industrial-scale wind power is different from backyard windmills. These babies are really big – more than 400 feet tall. That’s taller than the Bennington Monument! It takes big roads and a lot of blasting to get these enormous towers up the mountain and erected. As a result, the top of the Lowell Range has been stripped and blasted into something that resembles a barren moonscape.

A small but determined group of protesters camping on the mountain has brought this issue to the forefront of Vermont’s consciousness. The protestors David-versus-Goliath stance, coupled with the arrest last month of newspaperman Chris Braithewaite as he tried to cover the confrontation, has given Green Mountain Power an ongoing public relations nightmare.

And there’s a continuing debate over whether these big towers will actually generate enough electricity to make any real difference to our warming planet. The pro-wind people, using their numbers, can “prove” that the towers will reduce global warming, while the opponents can use their numbers to “prove” that the towers are a meaningless zero-sum exercise.

But regardless of who turns out to be right regarding the viability and capacity of these towers, what has been done to the Lowell Mountains is sad and unfortunate.

The irony of fighting global warming by destroying an untrammeled mountaintop can’t be ignored. To me, it sounds suspiciously like the Vietnam-era fallacy that you have to destroy the village in order to save it.

The fact is that all sources of electric power, including alternative sources, have an impact. Consequently, if we use electric power, we must make choices. We need a more thoughtful way to make those choices when mountaintops are involved.

Vermont’s mountain summits are too precious a resource to be made a pawn in the alternative energy game.


Ewing: A proactive approach to wind development badly needed

by Opinion | January 8, 2012

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by John Ewing, the former chair of the Vermont Environmental Board.

There is a fundamental problem with the way that wind farm development is occurring in our mountains, resulting from a lack of planning which would provide citizens and regulators with a better opportunity to know where these projects may be sited in the future.

On other issues Vermont has a long history of protection of its ridgelines through a public process that allows for more thoughtful and orderly consideration. One example is the report of the Gibb Commission which led to the adoption of Act 250 in 1970. All development over 2,500 feet was subjected to Act 250 review regardless of its size. Criterion 8 of that act protects aesthetic and scenic values. However, public utility development is not subject to these rules.

When major issues of ridgeline development have arisen in the past, the voice of the citizens has been powerful, and Vermont stands out as a place where public opinion and participation in these major issues is possible. An example is the Green Mountain Parkway, proposed along the spine of the Green Mountains. In this case, the legislature concluded that this dramatic change required a vote of the people, and it was promptly rejected by the voters. In its place we have the Green Mountain Club’s “footpath in the wilderness” – the Long Trail.

With this history in mind, I think we could do a much better job in planning for the development of wind projects, keeping in mind our proud history of recognizing that our mountains, ridgelines and hill tops have great value and importance in making Vermont such a special place, and where we have managed to avoid some of the type of development which would seriously impact our values as well as our tourist-based economy.

Under the present situation, there is no advance opportunity to understand where the next proposal will occur, and to what extent these projects will cumulatively compromise the beauty of our mountains. Grandpa’s Knob and the recent approval by the Green Mountain National Forest are two of the latest examples of projects where we are confronted with dramatic changes to our ridgelines in a less than transparent manner. With the governor’s recently published energy policy, and the potential opening of all public land to consideration, it is clear that such development could occur anywhere.

Therefore, I believe that the Agency of Natural Resources, consulting with the Public Service Board, should undertake a planning process to determine the ultimate scope of wind power development, the appropriate criteria, and where the most suitable sites will be. It would define the extent to which Vermont’s ridgelines would be impacted, and would help to guide the location of individual projects. Citizen involvement needs to be an important part of this planning process. A proactive, rather than reactive, approach is badly needed.

Wind power is important – but until we develop clearer public policy, transparency in location, and a process for citizen involvement, then the landscape in Vermont may be compromised without adequate review.


by Opinion | January 6, 2012

Editor’s note: Joseph Gainza lives in Marshfield and is a member of Vermont Action for Peace.
In the late ’70s and early ’80s I worked at the Vermont State Energy Office. One of my areas of responsibility was to encourage the development of wind energy. In light of the OPEC oil embargo, state energy offices were created to promote conservation and the development of alternative, including renewable, energy sources. I organized a meeting of Vermont electric utility executives and provided them with material on the potential for harnessing the wind as a power source. People involved in promoting the developing technology were invited and served as a resource for the meeting.
As part of my ongoing responsibilities, I spoke with several people about the potential for wind in Vermont, financing wind projects, and the environmental impacts of placing large wind generators on mountaintops. The office was also promoting small-scale and household-size wind generation and I would periodically visit home sites to determine whether it made sense for a family to go through the expense of having their site tested. I also talked with farmers in Addison County where the winds off Lake Champlain could provide for much of their electrical needs.
I remember clearly one discussion I had with professor Hub Vogelmann at the University of Vermont. Professor Vogelmann was studying the effects of acid rain on Vermont’s mountains. We wanted to know what might happen to a mountain where a large wind generator was placed. What the professor told us was enough to greatly reduce my enthusiasm for big wind generators on mountain ridges. Professor Volgelman theorized that by opening the tree cover of a mountaintop you expose all the trees along the perimeter of the space you create. Those trees which had been protected by the trees that have been removed would begin to die back as the winds dried out the soil and uprooted them. This die-back could be extensive depending on the mountain topography and other factors. What you would get is a much larger clearing of trees than needed for the placement of the generator. The additional destruction of the mountain ridge caused by the maintenance roads to the site(s) would only exacerbate the problem.
This discussion took place in about 1980, long before the development of the huge generators now being placed on mountains. Hub Vogelmann was speculating, still, I took his words of caution to heart and have listened with growing concern to the debate about placement of industrial scale wind generators on our Green Mountains.
Several issues come up for me and, in light of the catastrophic potential of global warming, take on a level of urgency. I believe that it is essential we move as rapidly as we can to the production and use of energy sources which provide for our needs while operating within the assimilative and regenerative capacities of the earth’s ecosystem. Fossil fuels and nuclear power do not fit into this framework. So we must develop all the renewable energy sources we can up to the limits imposed by the biological reality of life on earth.
The argument over whether to place utility scale wind generators on our mountaintops, like that over the XL tar sands oil pipeline, proposed to run from Alberta to Texas, fail to take into consideration the questions of “energy for what purpose, to whose benefit and how we can structure our personal and common life to insure that civilization and life itself continue to thrive.” These are big questions loaded with political, moral and ethical implications, so big in fact that it will take a vibrant democracy where all voices are heard and thoroughly considered, including those who speak for the voiceless, the other-than-human members of the earth community, where the best science informs our decisions before we make the needed investments and move ahead. This will obviously take time and time is what we lack; we have postponed serious discussion for so long that the early onslaught of global warming, in the form of frequent and violent storms, is already upon us. But we must start now.
The advance of renewable energy sources has taken place within the same paradigm which has brought us to the brink of an environmental calamity on the scale of the mass extinctions of millions of years ago when up to 95 pecent of all life on the planet vanished. That paradigm includes the belief that human desires take precedence over the needs of the other creatures with whom we share this planet, and that our well being is independent of the well being of the natural world. No wonder many people either want to deny the issue or see a “liberal” conspiracy in the science which is overwhelming in pointing to human activity as the driver of this impending disaster. But reality has a way of imposing itself as did Irene and many other climate related tragedies to befall people around the globe in 2011.
We must also ask why are we treating dispersed energy sources (wind, solar) the same as concentrated energy sources (fossil fuels, nuclear)? In business, efficiency is a central concept. The more efficiently one can produce a product, the greater the likely profit in selling that product. Electric utilities are not different, although they must adhere to regulations which are intended to protect customers and the public good. Huge wind generators are more efficient in this manner; 24 of them on a mountain ridge will produce more electricity than a few hundred homestead size generators serving individual households or a small number of homes in a rural village. And the larger profits from those ridgeline generators flow into the hands of utility shareholders and some, where applicable, into the coffers of hosting towns.
So whether or not to place 459 foot tall wind generators on our mountain ridges is not only about the choice to move away from fossil fuels, it is also about profit; it is about economic versus environmental health. This is the mindset that has brought us to the edge of our own self-extinction. Are we ready now to have serious discussions about how we are to live together on a finite planet which is the basis for all life as we know it?

Wright: The ‘Not-So-Green Mountains’

by Opinion | September 29, 2011

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Steve Wright of Craftsbury, an aquatic biologist and former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. It was first published in The New York Times.
Bulldozers arrived a couple of weeks ago at the base of the nearby Lowell Mountains and began clawing their way through the forest to the ridgeline, where Green Mountain Power plans to erect 21 wind turbines, each rising to 459 feet from the ground to the tip of the blades.
This desecration, in the name of “green” energy, is taking place in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on one of the largest tracts of private wild land in the state. Here and in other places — in Maine and off Cape Cod, for instance — the allure of wind power threatens to destroy environmentally sensitive landscapes.
Erecting those turbines along more than three miles of ridgeline requires building roads — with segments of the ridgeline road itself nearly half as wide as one of Vermont’s interstate highways — in places where the travel lanes are now made by bear, moose, bobcat and deer.
It requires changing the profile of the ridgeline to provide access to cranes and service vehicles. This is being accomplished with approximately 700,000 pounds of explosives that will reduce parts of the mountaintops to rubble that will be used to build the access roads.
It also requires the clear-cutting on steep slopes of 134 acres of healthy forest, now ablaze in autumn colors. Studies have shown that clear-cutting can lead to an increase in erosion to high-quality headwater streams, robbing them of life and fouling the water for downstream residents, wild and human.
The electricity generated by this project will not appreciably reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. Only 4 percent of those emissions now result from electricity generation. (Nearly half come from cars and trucks, and another third from the burning of heating oil.)
Wind doesn’t blow all the time, or at an optimum speed, so the actual output of the turbines — the “capacity factor” — is closer to about one-third of the rated capacity of 63 megawatts. At best, this project will produce enough electricity to power about 24,000 homes per year, according to the utility.
Still, wind does blow across Vermont’s ridgelines. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, for instance, has suggested that wind power could provide as much as 25 percent of the state’s electricity needs, which would require turbines on 29 miles of ridgeline. Other wind advocates, notably David Blittersdorf, the chief executive of a wind and solar power company in Williston, Vt., has urged that wind turbines be placed along 200 miles of ridgeline in the state.
But it is those same Green Mountain ridgelines that attracted nearly 14 million visitors to Vermont in 2009, generating $1.4 billion in tourism spending. The mountains are integral to our identity as the Green Mountain State, and provide us with clean air and water and healthy wildlife populations.
Vermont’s proud history of leadership in developing innovative, effective environmental protection is being tossed aside. This project will set an ominous precedent by ripping apart a healthy, intact ecosystem in the guise of doing something about climate change. In return, Green Mountain Power will receive $44 million in federal production tax credits over 10 years.
Ironically, most of the state’s environmental groups have not taken a stand on this ecologically disastrous project. Apparently, they are unwilling to stand in the way of “green” energy development, no matter how much destruction it wreaks upon Vermont’s core asset: the landscape that has made us who we are.
The pursuit of large-scale, ridgeline wind power in Vermont represents a terrible error of vision and planning and a misunderstanding of what a responsible society must do to slow the warming of our planet. It also represents a profound failure to understand the value of our landscape to our souls and our economic future in Vermont.
2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 28, 2012 9:23 pm

    Well that “informational meeting” about Section 248 really, how do I say this politely – really sucked. I am so discouraged to find that government is again working for the corporations instead of the people! Time to be loud and break some rules people. If we sit back and assume those in power will look out for our best interests, we are going to continue to be disappointed, and I am only going to get more cynical (ask my family, the world really does not need this). The thing that gives me hope is when people speak out against something that is wrong, and when we win the support of our local government in this process. Keep at it all.

  2. Jim Wiegand permalink
    July 16, 2012 1:58 pm

    It is the head of the snake that is corrupt. There are thousands of hard working lower level employees in the USFWS and US Forest Service that would not be working for the corporations if given a choice. They are trapped. I learned in the late 1970s about our Wildlife Agencies – that if you work for these guys, you can not overstep your rank, even if your boss is a total lying scumbag. If you do, you will soon be demoted, transferred and eventually be out of work. Right and wrong does not matter. This is why I chose to never work for any wildlife agencies. It is also why you can not expect any justice from them.

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