Press Release, October 21, 2010,
Contact: Annette Smith, VCE Exec. Dir., 802-446-2094
Utility-Scale Wind Update – Projects Burden Communities and Damage Environment
“…the winners are the developers, not the environment or communities…”
VCE Executive Director Annette Smith today offered a sobering update on the impacts of utility-scale wind projects on communities around Vermont. “When the theory of ‘big wind’ is put into practice, the winners are the developers, not the environment or communities,” Smith said.
Smith pointed to a number of developments this week as evidence of the difficult situations these projects are creating.
On Tuesday, residents near the permitted Sheffield project filed papers with Vermont Environmental Court requesting a stay on construction after fly-overs by citizens indicated the developer is not following permit conditions designed to protect area streams from excessive run-off during the construction phase. Quoting from the Motion for Emergency Stay and Expedited Briefing and Decision:
- It appears from the photographs that clearing has taken place in steep areas without erosion control measures or sediment basins, as required by the permit. It also appears from the photographs that stumping and grubbing has taken place without the required sediment control devices….It is further evident that the road construction is taking place without first building the retention ponds required to be built prior to this road construction.
The filing points out numerous apparent permit violations and the resultant impacts from construction that can create permanent, significant damage to both land and water quality, especially as the construction has taken place during periods of heavy rain well before the ground has frozen. These impacts come despite the repeated claims by First Wind, the developer, that the purpose of the project is to in fact protect the environment.
Other aspects of the project under litigation include interpretations of the state’s Water Quality Standards and stormwater prevention programs.
“Given that the issue of anti-degradation has been an issue for many environmental groups in Vermont, in the context of Lake Champlain and in general, we do not understand why the serious environmental degradation in high elevation headwaters and wetlands affected by this big wind development have not drawn more attention from the larger organizations active in Vermont,” Smith stated.
Smith also indicated that the Public Service Board’s handling of the Lowell project has created significant difficulties for citizens and communities who are impacted by the project. “The PSB has established short timeframes and a brisk process. Citizens and town officials have not had adequate time to review thousands of pages of paperwork filed by Green Mountain Power, which had been preparing its application for more than a year. Local residents and town Selectboards have had only two months to raise money, hire lawyers and experts, read through all the information, and try to prepare to protect their legitimate interests. The PSB’s process and GMP’s aggressive time frame are beyond ridiculous, and border on abusive,” Smith stated.
“VCE has worked with citizens and communities on dozens of development projects, and we have never seen anything like the substantial financial burden these wind projects place on towns and citizens who attempt to participate in the process,” she said.
Smith noted that the timing of a press event this week by other Vermont environmental groups, scheduled for the day before the PSB’s deadline for extensive pre-filed testimony in the Lowell case, feels like “a slap in the face” to Lowell area residents. “What people are telling me in Albany and Craftsbury is that the other statewide groups don’t seem to understand what these projects are doing to citizens and how difficult it is for cash-strapped towns to participate in the expensive legal process at the PSB,” she stated.
VCE, which has a history of protecting Vermonters’ property rights against corporate abuse, is also concerned about the economic impact of big wind turbine development on neighboring properties. Chicago area appraiser Mike McCann, who is evaluating the impacts of turbine development in the Midwest, wrote in a letter this week:
- In 30 years of appraising, studying and consulting on all types of real estate and development projects, I have never seen the effects, impacts and reactions of the magnitude or severity that turbine neighbors and their property rights are subjected to.… If this continues unchecked, I predict a series of rural “ghettos” – of abandoned, unmaintained homes, and an economically disadvantaged class of people finding these devalued homes to be the only place they can afford.
Smith added that VCE will be submitting comments to the PSB that detail the shortcomings of the current type of turbines being used by developers in Vermont and elsewhere in New England.
“We are finding that the promises being made by the developers in terms of life-span of the machines, their maintenance costs, and other operational details are not living up to real-world experience. Vermont has the benefit of learning from projects that have been in operation for years, and we hope that the PSB, energy planners, and those activists who are supporting the use of this technology will take the time to investigate these issues further before supporting the use of the current turbine models in Vermont,” she said.
Smith offered a final observation on the week’s developments. “Ironically, today’s press event comes almost exactly one year to the day from the forum VCE hosted to explore noise, health, and energy issues related to utility-scale wind. One year later, the conversation has advanced, but only a little. Our efforts to engage developers, regulators, and energy activists in a constructive dialogue about the issues have been frustrating, but we are slowly bringing the facts to light,” Smith concluded.
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