• N.E. Kingdom lawmakers sound off against wind power
     | December 12,2005

    Northeast Kingdom lawmakers are beginning to air their views on wind energy, and many are opposed, despite the recent straw poll by registered voters in Sheffield that favored a huge wind power project slated for their town.

    One legislator, Rep. Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall, said she will offer a bill in the upcoming session that would add a regulatory hurdle to wind developers by bringing them under Act 250 environmental law jurisdiction.

    Developers of the Sheffield Wind Farm want to build 26, 400-foot wind turbines on a 2,000-acre swath of mountain ridgeline in Sutton and Sheffield. The project, to be built in partnership with Washington Electric Co-op in East Montpelier, would generate 2 to 3 percent of the state's power and be visible in many area towns.

    The co-op hopes to use the power to provide electricity for its 10,000 members. Developer UPC Wind Management has said it is also "in talks" to sell power from the project to two other Vermont utilities.

    The proposal has sharply divided residents. Supporters say wind energy would alleviate a looming energy crisis in the state, while opponents say sacrificing the ridgelines would economically devastate the area by destroying its unspoiled natural beauty.

    With UPC now on the verge of submitting an application for a certificate of public need with the Vermont Public Service Board, area lawmakers are weighing in.

    Rep. Duncan Kilmartin, R-Newport City, did not mince words in his opposition to a utility scale wind development.

    "It is unreliable, it is unpredictable and it doesn't work in Vermont. Economically, it would be a disaster," Kilmartin said at a public hearing last week on the latest regional development plan being drafted by Northeastern Vermont Development, the regional economic agency. He took aim at a draft NVDA regional plan, which advocated developing utility-scale wind turbine developments to lower electricity costs and reel in new business.

    "For better or worse, the impact of wind tower construction goes beyond the borders of a particular town. It is a regional, if not a state issue," the proposed draft of the report read. "Wind towers should be seen as beneficial to the region."

    Faced with considerable criticism of that position, NVDA board members last Thursday agreed to remove mention of wind energy in the Northeast Kingdom plan until further studies can be done.

    Kilmartin said incorporating wind into the utility mix "is not an appropriate energy source in view of our other energy sources."

    Kilmartin's view was shared by a surprising number of Northeast Kingdom lawmakers, most of whom questioned or opposed plans around the state that call for building up to 143 wind turbines along remote ridgelines.

    Said Rep. Mike Marcotte, R-Newport and selectman chairman of Coventry, "I am against it. I don't see a benefit to the state. I think the only benefits that anyone is going to see are the people building them and I think their plans are to sell green credits to coal-burning Midwestern power plants to satisfy their renewable portfolio standards."

    UPC representatives have said selling "green credits" would make up roughly 50 percent of projected revenues. Selling clean renewable energy would make up about half the revenues.

    Rep. Janice Peaslee, R-Guildhall, and Rep. Cola Hudson, R-Lyndon, also attended the NVDA hearing, and both voiced opposition to large-scale wind development.

    "I don't support these massive turbines," Peaslee said in a telephone interview. "The only thing we have going for us up here is our beauty. I don't want to picture 143 wind turbines (as proposed by four different companies). Where is it going to stop?"

    Peaslee said she is going to propose a bill requiring utility wind developments face additional review besides the current jurisdiction under section 248 of Vermont's utility law, making them subject to the Act 250 land use law.

    "This isn't a small area to be impacted. You are talking a wide region. I think things should slow down," she said.

    Sen. Jane Kitchel, D-Caledonia-Orange, favored a slow down in wind development while lawmakers gather data to assess various alternative energy sources, costs and impacts on the state's resources.

    "I am deeply troubled by the situation the Northeast Kingdom is in," Kitchel said Thursday. She said she is one of three senators who voted against legislation requiring utilities to increase renewable portfolio standards because it forces them to rush into the fastest but not necessarily the best form of renewable energy. Kitchel said the renewable energy law creates a situation where legislation is ahead of planning, without considering final impacts.

    "I know we are looking at the loss of two-thirds of our energy sources On the other hand, we know we have different options" such as biomass, hydropower and wood chip plants. She said it appears the Northeast Kingdom would pay the price for benefits to be gained elsewhere. "At this point, what is being proposed is causing me great consternation and we have to be careful with our precious resources. There has to be a compelling case as to why this development is absolutely needed and I haven't arrived at that."

    One viable alternative would be to allow owners of hydro dams to dredge reservoirs and continue to generate power as they have done for over a century in Vermont, she said. Kitchel said lawmakers should consider the tradeoffs of dredging a river compared to developing wind on ridgelines.

    Rep. Dick Lawrence, R-Lyndon, also said he felt more information is needed. "I have no problems saying both sides are telling just half-truths. We need facts to make the proper decision and so far I am not comfortable all those facts have been presented fairly. I am totally convinced both sides have been slanted," Lawrence said.

    Rep. Don Bostic, R-St. Johnsbury, said he is against the Sheffield Wind Farm and others like it because it would run across the ridgeline.

    "I don't want windmills across the Northeast Kingdom's mountains. No way," Bostic said.

    But Sen. Vincent Illuzzi, R-Essex-Orleans, said he installed a domestic scale wind turbine in around 2003 to power his home and it works well.

    Illuzzi said he didn't want to support or oppose wind farm proposals in the area because he has not yet viewed plans, but he favors the concept of wind. He owns 170 undeveloped acres in Sheffield adjacent to the project and would like to see plans before endorsing it, he said.

    "Overall, I believe wind turbines are necessary for the future mix of our overall energy. When wind is generating, you don't have to be running oil, natural gas or LP gas," Illuzzi said. Illuzzi also said wind would help reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil.

    Although many Northeast Kingdom lawmakers question wind development as large as Sheffield Wind Farm, Peaslee, Bostic and Kitchel said they do not object to the five-unit wind turbine generation plant Matthew Rubin plans to build on East Haven Mountain.

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