Supporters, opponents both protest wind decision

Posted June 15, 2011, at 8:56 p.m.

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Both supporters and opponents of the Lowell Mountain wind power project planned for northern Vermont are protesting the recent approval of the project.

In filings at the state Public Service Board, project developer Green Mountain Power Corp. says the board is requiring it to bring specialized public safety equipment to the construction site prematurely.

The company, which wants to build 21 wind-power turbines more than 400 feet tall on a ridge in Lowell, also is asking that the board change a condition requiring it to acquire land easements for new wildlife habitat before construction begins; it wants the deadline instead to be before operation of the project begins.

In papers filed with the board on Tuesday, GMP asked the board to amend its May 31 order approving the project by changing the deadlines for when four conditions of more than 40 conditions issued with that order need to be met, and dropping a fifth condition completely.

The neighboring towns of Albany and Craftsbury, meanwhile, are arguing in papers filed with the board that its ruling would allow the project to make too much noise, to stay within the standard adopted by the board from the World Health Organization.

“Allowing a project that, at the outset, has not shown it can meet a necessary health standard cannot be in the public good and the Board must reconsider its decision given that the Project would not meet the relevant standard,” Jared Margolis, a lawyer for the two towns, wrote in a request for the board to reconsider its approval.

Much of the debate over the project during hearings before the board concerned its impacts on wildlife. GMP and co-developer Vermont Electric Cooperative said they would acquire nearby land easements and try to create new wildlife habitats to replace areas being disturbed by the wind towers and roads leading to them.

Despite skepticism voiced by some environmentalists, the board largely approved that strategy, but said as one of the conditions for its approval that the easements had to be obtained before construction could begin.

In its request for consideration, GMP asked that the deadline not be before construction, but before the wind turbines began operating and making electricity.

Jared Margolis, the lawyer who represented Albany and Craftsbury in board hearings, objected strongly in an interview Wednesday to the proposed change in deadline, as did Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Both Margolis and Smith argued that if GMP tried and failed to get easements from neighboring land owners after construction, the existing wildlife habitats already would have been disturbed and millions of dollars may have been spent on the project only to have it ending up being blocked.

“They expected to be able to build the whole thing and not until they were ready to throw the switch” would the company resolve the wildlife issues, Smith said. “You can’t put back the hydrology of a mountain,” she added.

Smith said GMP was pushing for an Aug. 1 start date for construction because the project has to be completed by the end of 2012 to be eligible for crucial federal tax credits, a situation that she contended was resulting in GMP trying to move to fast.

GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure confirmed in an interview that the company is hoping to get construction under way by Aug. 1 and to get the project up and running by the end of next year to be eligible for federal tax credits that expire at the end of 2012.

Asked whether the project remains financially viable if the tax credits aren’t available, Schnure said, “I don’t have an answer for that at this point. Our plan is to get it done by then.”

 

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