Northeast Vermont Development Association calls for moratorium on big wind in Northeast Kingdom
by Taylor Dobbs | June 29, 2012 vtdigger.org Wind proponents are a bit flustered this week after the Northeast Vermont Development Association’s board passed a resolution that recommends a three-year suspension on “new construction of industrial size wind turbines in excess of two hundred feet.”
The suspension is an effort to slow down wind development in the northeastern part of the state, where projects like First Wind in Sheffield have polarized communities.
“They’re completely dividing our communities … they’re pitting towns against each other,” said Dave Snedeker, planning manager at NVDA. NVDA is the regional planning commission and the economic development corporation for 55 communities in the Northeast Kingdom.
The resolution says the three-year freeze would allow the NVDA to analyze the effect of wind projects on the communities and economy within Caledonia, Essex and Orleans counties.
“I think we really don’t know the impact of these things,” he said.
But Gabrielle Stebbins, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont (REV), says she does know the impact, and she offered to speak before the NVDA board multiple times and was denied.
“If NVDA were really interested, if there was a lot of concern about learning the facts, and if a third party comes to them and says ‘Look, I can give you a lot of facts that are neutral’ … and they do not put me on the agenda and there was time during the meeting, that says something, there, to me,” she said.
Stebbins also said she was frustrated at the rhetoric of the debate at the NVDA board meetings.
“When speaking, many statements were made as if they were fact,” she said. Stebbins referred to one speaker mentioning that noise from the windmills can cause birds’ heads to implode.
“That’s not a fact, and it was presented as if it was a fact,” she said.
Though the resolution recommends a three-year suspension on industrial wind projects in the region, it carries no legal weight and could not by itself keep such a project out of the region. That decision remains under the Public Service Board’s purview, and that group – though they must hear concerns from municipalities, regional planning committees and the public – does not answer to the NVDA.
Snedeker acknowledges that the Public Service Board could ignore the resolution altogether and green-light a large industrial wind project, but he hopes NVDA’s involvement in the board process will keep big wind out of the Northeast Kingdom for the next three years.
“It’s our belief that they would take into consideration the recommendation of the regional planning board,” he said.
Though the suspension has the potential to hinder the alternative energy economy in northeastern Vermont, Snedeker says it could save another, more important aspect of its economy.
“If we’re allowing the continued development of these large wind projects, how is that going to impact the tourism part of our economy?” he said.
Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said that while the proposed suspension is not enforceable because the Public Service Board is ultimately responsible for project approval, the board is required by statute to at least consider input from municipal and regional planning bodies.
“I understand, and I know the Governor understands, the deeply held opinions in this state regarding large scale wind projects,” Miller wrote in an email statement. “Town and regional energy and development plans, and stances on particular projects brought forward by interested parties, play an important role in Section 248 proceedings in front of the PSB.”
The board’s process gives special consideration to public groups that have a specific interest in a given project.
“They can become an interested party if they demonstrate their individual interest, and obviously towns … and regional planning commissions often do that,” Miller said in an interview. This would allow the group to submit comments such as this week’s recommendation for consideration in the Public Service Board’s process.
Photo: Sheffield Wind, by Vermont Business Magazine