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OPINION: Stop Industrial Wind Development — We Must Protect Our Ridgelines, Lakes and Streams

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by Brian Dubie

In 2009, when I was serving as lieutenant governor, I was invited to the Bolton Valley Ski Area resort for the commissioning of a wind turbine manufactured by Barre workers. Its blade height was a very modest 120-feet, and the tower was on a scale to fit in with the ski resort profile. Bolton became only the second ski resort in the country to be powered in part by renewable wind electricity.

In the same year I was asked to assist a proposed project on Georgia Mountain which I did. In the same year I was invited to visit the little mountain town of Ira, in Rutland County. Citizens there were very concerned about the proposed wind power development on their ridges. Unlike the 120 foot tower at Bolton, the proposed Ira project had towers that would overshadow the homes of local residents. As the towers grew ever larger, to catch more wind, my attitude toward wind towers began to change.

The current generation of wind turbines has ground-to-tip  heights of 500 feet. Under certain conditions they can be noisy. The trend is more turbines per site, so the effect is multiplied, especially when there is turbulence.

After these industrial wind projects were built in Sheffield, Lowell and Georgia, I listened to Vermonters whose lives have been affected by having to live under blades that now reach five times the height of the typical Vermont forest canopy.  We are talking “War of the Worlds” huge.

Many people report health issues that they attribute to the industrial turbines that were built near them. Some say they cannot sleep at night because of the noise these huge turbines produce.  I have talked to people who have been forced to move out of their bedrooms into other rooms or out of their homes altogether due to noise.

Our laws have recognized, for centuries, that property owners have the right to make peaceful use of their land — so long as such use does not cause spillover effects that harm their neighbors. In my view, no one should have to move out of his or her home because a neighboring landowner chooses to build an industrial wind project.

There is more to the wind tower issue than aesthetics and health. These towers bring harmful environmental effects as well.

A large turbine requires as much as three acres of impervious pads, like paved parking lots. They require interstate-sized roads to the ridge lines to transport these machines, which will cause serious erosion  and will degrade water quality. There will also be harmful effects on wildlife.

It is upsetting to locals when a wind developer with big profit expectations rolls into a town. Such developers bring a large bagful of federal subsidies, and enjoy a state mandate requiring the utilities to purchase their power at above the market price. They hire lawyers, experts, and PR consultants who know the Public Service Board process and can run over a town or a community.

Last May, bipartisan senators tried to require the Public Service Board to give “substantial deference” to local land use plans relating to large scale wind project applications before the board. The senate voted (against it).  As a result, towns can give input, but the power lies with three unelected people appointed by the governor. There is no local control for energy project siting.

For all of these reasons, I have become committed to sharply increasing the power of local municipalities to regulate — or even prohibit — projects when the negative impact outweighs the benefits.

Renewable energy, for the most part, is a good thing. I support net metering for home-scaled wind and solar, small scale hydro and mining landfills and bio digesters for methane. But at some point, the rush into large scale (subsidized) renewable energy becomes too costly, and too destructive of human and environmental values, to merit continued support.

I ask our legislators to support a moratorium on new wind projects until they can answer how well our existing projects have lived up to developers’ promises, how they’ve impacted the environment and how they have affected their communities. A hiatus in development would also give us a chance to develop real siting standards, find meaningful ways for our towns to participate and study the regulatory processes of governments that do a better job than we do.

Brian Dubie of Fairfield served as Vermont’s lieutenant governor 2003-2011

(This opinion was edited for length)

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