State halts work on Lowell Mountain Wind Project

Simulation of Green Mountain Power wind towers on Lowell Mountain. Image from GMP

Construction on the Kingdom Community Wind Project is temporarily on hold after the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources issued a stop-work order.

Green Mountain Power, the utility that is building the project, violated part of its Clean Water Act permit when it failed to comply with part of its sediment control plan.

Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner David Mears said workers in the project were running trucks in an area where GMP had failed to provide sediment controls to prevent stormwater discharges.

“They had a discharge, and we asked them to stop work,” Mears said.

ANR issued the stop-work order Wednesday. Dottie Schnure, a spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power said the heavy rains from last weekend demonstrated that some of the controls the company had in place to prevent stormwater runoff were not effective. “We’re working toward more permanent controls,” Schnure said.

Schnure said Green Mountain Power would notify the Vermont Public Service Board (the state regulatory agency that issued the certificate of public good for the project), but the company will be working with ANR to rectify the problem. She said the company is working on doing all the fixes it can to make sure it complies with all of its stormwater permits.

GMP’s stormwater permit requires both temporary controls during construction and permanent controls during operation of the project. The problem this week had to do with a failure to comply with a “sediment control plan” that is meant to ensure that things like fill material and other fine particulates do not wash away into local waterways. Schnure said GMP has currently stopped all construction work until ANR gives them the go-ahead to continue. Mears said he was not sure when the state agency might lift the order, but he said he hoped GMP could complete all the necessary work within a few days before more rain caused more stormwater discharges.

The Kingdom Community Wind Project is slated for completion by the end of 2012. Green Mountain Power hopes to have the project online by that date in order to take advantage of federal tax credits. The 63-megawatt, 21-turbine wind project is designed to be able to provide power for more than 24,000 homes.

Construction on the project began in early September. In August, the Agency of Natural Resources approved numerous stormwater permits for the project. These included: Two stormwater permits for the access road, the wind farm and the associated transmission line; a state stormwater operational permit for control of discharges from impervious surfaces; a wetlands permit; and a certification under Section 401 of the Clean Water Act that the project would not violate state water quality standards.

The wind project, Vermont’s largest wind energy development, was supported by a vote in the town of Lowell, but it faced strong opposition from some in neighboring communities. Opponents questioned whether the project was worth the environmental cost of building access roads and disturbing wildlife habitat in addition to the project’s impacts on the ridgeline’s aesthetics.

Green Mountain Power received a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board in late May. The certificate approved the project subject to certain conditions, including mitigation of environmental impacts. The approval was expressly conditioned on a memorandum of understanding with the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to mitigate the impacts of the proposed project with respect to habitat fragmentation, necessary wildlife habitat, and state-significant natural communities. In addition, Green Mountain Power had to obtain other permits under the Clean Water Act and to mitigate noise impacts.

Most recently, opponents have set up a small camp on property owned by Don and Shirley Nelson in efforts to stop the project.
Despite its setbacks, Schnure of Green Mountain Power said she is still confident the Kingdom Community Wind project is still on track to be online by the end of 2012.

Alan Panebaker

Comments

  1. All five water quality permits issued by ANR for the Lowell Wind project have been appealed. Those appeals now go to the Vermont Public Service Board rather than Environmental Court thanks to the legislature’s changes in the rules specifically and only for the wind industry.

    The Agency of Natural Resources has intervened in the appeals. Five attorneys have been assigned to the appeals before the PSB.

    Based on ANR’s aggressive litigation in appeals of First Wind’s Sheffield project’s construction stormwater permit, where the Agency joined forces with First Wind against neighbor appellants, we can expect ANR to support Green Mountain Power’s (and its expert’s) defense of those permits.

    The appeal of First Wind’s Sheffield project’s stormwater construction permit will be heard by the Vermont Supreme Court in oral argument on Oct. 19. The VSC denied a Motion to Stay construction while the appeal was pending.

  2. Saturday morning report from the mountain. The work on the site started at 6 a.m., with the sounds of earth moving equipment active at 6:30 a.m. Earth moving equipment was working all day Friday and all day Thursday. What does the “Stop Work Order” mean that was issued on Wednesday? It obviously doesn’t mean that work has stopped.

  3. Ken Waller :

    “Saturday morning report from the mountain. The work on the site started at 6 a.m., with the sounds of earth moving equipment active at 6:30 a.m. Earth moving equipment was working all day Friday and all day Thursday.”

    Yay!

  4. Bill Bevans :

    VTD does itself and its reputation for accurate reporting a disservice by publishing the Green Mountain Power provided photo simulation of the wind towers on Lowell Mountains. The photo taken from at least 10 miles away further understates the actual size of these 21 behemoths.

    Here’s a question for Vermont structural engineers. Name the man made structures in VT that are taller than these are planned to be. And who knows what the latest size spec is? 450 feet? 500 feet?

  5. it’s not nice to try to tame (at least with cost efficiency)mother nature:)

  6. Steve Wright :

    GMP,
    We TOLD you not to be running around with those scisssors!!

    Green Mountain Power just can’t help themselves. They lurch from one embarrassment to another in a drunken, insatiable drive to squeeze taxpayer money out of the mountain.

    That, fellow Vermonters, is the only reason this crime against our landscape goes unchecked, a sad truth that has the governor, GMP and their minions in a mad rush over the cliff of stupidity.

    It is not about effective, intelligent climate change action. It is not about effective, intelligent energy use and development. It is about politics and money.

    “The emperor has no clothes.”

  7. Alex Barnham :

    If the ardor to STOP CONSTRUCTION was as deep as the ardor to STOP CONSUMING, we would certainly be making headway.

  8. Steve,
    You are right about GMP basically doing what they want, because they have Shumlin and other state officials in their corner.

    Annette brought up the fact that the Environmental Court has been short circuited by legislative leaders so 460 ft tall wind turbine facilities can be rammed through with a minimum of public input. Gee, is that what Vermont is coming too, or is this just BAU?

    Blittersdorf (a renewables vendor), Shumlin, et al, are in a hurry to put wind turbines on 200 miles of ridge lines. Lowell uses 3.2 miles, thus 200/3.2 = 62 Lowell-size facilities spread throughout the state. Capital cost: 160 x 62 = $9.92 billion to produce power that is not there 10 to 15 percent of the year, mostly during summer. Irrational exuberance?

    Expensive energy is great for Vermonters? The visuals are great for tourism? Environmental damage is great for flora and fauna? Expensive energy is great for electric rates? Higher electric rates will lower living standards and lower business profits, slow down economic growth, reduces tax collections, slows repair of flood damage, reduces investment in new, more efficient ways to create goods and services. Nightmare scenario?

    Shumlin, et al, is rushing his Plan through, because the federal 30% cash subsidy bonanza is expiring in 2015. This bonanza is of big benefit to wind turbine vendors (mostly foreign), project developers (such as GMP which seems to have project supervision problems) and financiers managing tax shelters (the Wall Street crowd, et al; giant tax shelters to benefit the top 1% of households).

  9. edd foerster :

    “Annette brought up the fact that the Environmental Court has been short circuited by legislative leaders so 460 ft tall wind turbine facilities can be rammed through with a minimum of public input. Gee, is that what Vermont is coming too, or is this just BAU?”

    First of all, to argue that this wind development was approved “with a minimum of public input” is simply false. You just don’t like the outcome.

    Second, if you’re complaining that the legislature somehow changed the rules of the permitting game for windpower development, howcome I don’t hear you complaining that the legislature changed the rules midstream to prevent the PSB from doing its statutory job in considering the relicensing application of Vermont Yankee?

  10. Bill Fox :

    The picture of those wind turbines on that mountain are terrible, is this what Vermont really wants , I hope not, I live in So VT (some of you may have heard of So VT), we fought these things off of Glebe and Equinox Mountains, and will continue to do so. I hope we get another new plant at VT Yankee frankly, these days it makes the most and safest sense.

  11. Edd,

    I appreciate your theme of public process throughout the three stories on which you’ve posted comments. Most Vermonters believe we have a thorough public review process, and through my dozen years working with citizens on a variety of issues, there usually comes a point that I call the loss of innocence, when people realize that our state government considers its customer to be the regulated business community. That is true with ANR (it was well articulated under Gov. Douglas and continues under Gov. Shumlin — this is not a partisan problem) and with the PSB, which has a collegial relationship with the entities it regulates, and operates from a perspective of trusting the applicants to bring in good information.

    This dynamic has proven to be extremely problematic especially with the wind development projects. ANR works with developers for up to a year, with zero public process. ANR’s experts testify about the major damage to be done, but then leadership enters into MOUs that turn their concerns into deals that allow the projects to proceed. The PSB rode around the Lowell area but never got up on site.

    If these projects went through Act 250, we would see real site visits that look at the site plans on the ground so people understand the impacts. With the PSB process, only GMP’s engineers know that this entire area http://www.vce.org/ToBeBlastedLowell.jpg is to be blasted to ground level. This level of detail has not been reviewed through the PSB process.

    Act 250 would probably also not have approved 196 foot setbacks from neighboring property lines for 459 foot tall machines. With most towns, counties and states setting distances of 1.1x to 1.5x the total height with blade extended, Vermont’s PSB has now established standards (in all 4 wind cases it has approved) that are the least protective of neighboring properties of any in the country.

    As someone who advises the public on effective public participation in Vermont’s regulatory processes, I now have a big problem. After witnessing the PSB process for the Lowell Mountains and Georgia Mountain wind projects closely, and studying the history of the Sheffield and Deerfield wind project approvals, I can no longer in good conscience advise citizens, towns, or other interested parties to raise money, hire lawyers and experts, and participate in the PSB process. It is a total, complete waste of time and large amounts of money. An evaluation of the process and decisions shows that in every case, the wind developer got everything it wanted, and the public participation was ignored.

    Edd, did you attend the technical hearings for any of these projects? I’m curious why you are so vehemently defending them, and if you did attend, can you please provide an explanation about what you saw was working? Because from where I sit, we have a broken process. Next wind project, I am advising people to buy cardboard, marking pens, and sticks and make signs and picket outside the PSB building. It is a far better use of time and money, and will cost a lot less.

  12. Rob Pforzheimer :

    Annette is right in her description of the PSB 248 process. It is a complete and absolute farce. The ANR and DPS represent the developers, flipping their so-called experts testimony under political pressure.
    There have been two haz mat spills and numerous water quality violations in Sheffield and the project hasn’t even gone on line yet.
    There’s currently, and for the foreseeable future, a glut of electric generation in New England, even without VT Yankee. We don’t need to be building inefficient, loud, ugly, strobe lit, environmentally destructive, property and quality of life devaluing, habitat fragmenting, divisive industrial wind projects to destroy headater streams and wetlands and kill birds and the few remaining bats.
    There’s no evidence from the tens of thousands of turbines around the world of reduced emissions or shutdown of other generation. Proponents claims of cleaner air, green jobs, and reduced emissions are as bogus as all the so-called expert studies that the PSB uses to legitimize this farce.
    The wind scam was begun by Enron, and the industry, including First Wind, is littered with former Enron employees. This industry is all about generating subsidies, grants and tax breaks, paid with our tax dollars, not reliable, dispatchable electricity.
    Non disclosure, non-disparagement clauses (gag orders) are used by the wind industry world wide to pay off people and stifle complaints about noise and flicker . The agreement First Wind, tried unsucessfully to get Sheffield stormwater appeal appellants to sign to drop their stormwater permit appeal is available here:
    The reason there aren’t more complaints about wind factories around the world is because of gag orders, squelch orders, non-disturbance/non-disparagement clauses in agreements similar to the proposed Sheffield settlement agreement that has been posted in it’s entirety here: http://www.windaction.org/documents/25867

  13. Anesha Wilkie :

    Hey everybody,I am doing a project in school about this issue and I can see both sides of the story here. I can see why people don’t like the idea of putting up wind turbines but I can also see that it does in a way help out the environment. What’s the point of spending lots of money to put these up just to basically loose money from all the hard work put into the wildlife habitats? Why would you want to ruin the land and risk possible storm water discharge? If you try to look at it in the opposite way you can see that it is going to help the environment. These turbines are designed to be able to provide for more than 24,000 homes. So basically what i’m trying to say is that instead of looking at it one way and either strongly agreeing with it or strongly disagreeing,you should see both sides.

  14. You should go take a hike up on the Lowell Mountains and see what is to be destroyed. Until people do that, they really don’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision.

  15. edd foerster :

    “You should go take a hike up on the Lowell Mountains and see what is to be destroyed. Until people do that, they really don’t have the information necessary to make an informed decision.”

    In other words, only Annette is right.

  16. Hilton Dier III :

    Someone tell me a way of making electricity that doesn’t just transfer the environmental damage somewhere else.

    The non-renewable options are all worse. Coal transfers the damage to mountaintops in the Appalachians and huge pits out west, with CO2 and ash pits added. Nuclear is viciously dangerous all through its fuel cycle. Natural gas is on its way to being all shale gas, which endangers aquifers and produces CO2. And, of course, they are all headed for scarcity.

    On the renewable slate, wind aside, we have the noble photovoltaic (solar electric) module. Despite being an installer of these, I realize that much of the world’s production is in China, with associated pollution in mining and manufacture. We have exported the environmental damage to the other side of the planet, but it still exists.

    Hydroelectric can be done right, with the damage to rivers minimized, but there is no impact free hydro.

    Wave and tidal power involves heavy industry for construction, seabed disturbance, and long distance high voltage transmission infrastructure.

    Biomass involves either agriculture or forest harvesting, and there is no getting around the environmental impact of that.

    We could put the wind towers elsewhere, and fob off the impact on someone else, but we would also need those high voltage transmission lines (read: tall steel towers and cleared rights of way) to get the power back to us.

    So the choice we face is among an array of options that all damage the environment. Some of them damage it somewhere else and impose on someone else. We can conserve energy all we want (and we should), but we need some generation somewhere. No matter how conscientious we are about building and operating our generators, of whatever type, we will have an impact. We can choose between places, giving some more value than others, but that is a choice, not a necessity. Transferring that impact to others is self interested. It is a matter of intellectual honesty that we understand and acknowledge this.

    By all means, fight for high standards in environmental protection. Hold GMP’s corporate feet to the fire. But remember, NIMBY also means SEBY (Someone Else’s Back Yard).

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