Lazor: The Lowell Wind Project as seen from Butterworks Farm

The 75-foot-tall 35kw Vestas wind turbine at Butterworks Farm provides half the farm's electricity needs. Photo provided by the author

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Jack Lazor, the owner of Butterworks Farm in Westfield.

I’ve been watching the progress of Green Mountain Power’s Lowell Mountain Wind Project from my kitchen window for some time now. Our farm is on Buck Hill in Westfield, across the valley from the Lowell Mountains. It looks like the massive crane is putting the blades on the sixth turbine this morning.

We’ve have a 75-foot-tall 35kw Vestas wind turbine with 25-foot blades here on our farm since 2005. It seemed so large when we installed it seven years ago. It seems pretty small and inconsequential in comparison to what is being erected across the valley right now. Our wind turbine feeds back into the local grid and runs our electric meter backwards. In a good windy winter month like December or January, it can provide up to half of the 6,000 kilowatts that we use on our dairy farm and yogurt plant. Our windmill isn’t trouble free, but I love it nonetheless. It’s very windy on this hilltop and it feels so good to put this natural force that buffets us to work.

We have friends and neighbors who support and who oppose the big industrial wind project here in our neighborhood. I have purposely stayed out of the fray, but have decided that I must speak out. I don’t mind looking across the valley at these giant windmills. As a matter of fact, they seem beautiful and graceful to me. However, I am saddened by the environmental degradation that was necessary to make this project possible. Several weekends ago, I flew over the Lowell Mountains in a friend’s airplane and got to see the site from above. There is now a major road and large clearings on four and a half miles of the spine of a mountain range that was once covered with trees and wetlands. What was once a pristine glade has been blasted and bulldozed down to bare rock. The road is certainly a miracle of modern construction technology as it winds its way across the undulations of the mountaintops. My neighbors who run construction equipment for a living sing the praises of a job well done.

I don’t mind looking across the valley at these giant windmills. As a matter of fact, they seem beautiful and graceful to me. However, I am saddened by the environmental degradation that was necessary to make this project possible.

I don’t like seeing the tops of mountains removed, but who am I to tell someone else what they can or cannot do with their own private property? So, I have remained a quiet observer watching people I know quite well protest and get arrested at the same time as other people I see everyday grumble and complain that the project is being delayed by these tactics. Then came the 5-inch cloudburst that descended upon the Lowell area on May 29. I had 20 acres of organic corn planted along the Missisquoi River in Lowell inundated with 7 feet of swirling and rushing brown flood water. The big news on VPR several days later was that the state had inspected the water catchment basins up on the mountain and they had worked flawlessly. That certainly wasn’t my impression having crops that were affected by the flooding. I’m sure there would have been some high water with a 5-inch rain, but not a devastating flood. Thankfully, we only lost 15 per cent of our corn along the river in Lowell. After this incident, I have become painfully aware that what one does on his or her property does have tremendous repercussions downstream in lower elevation. An industrial wind project is not without the same kind of environmental consequences that would result from other large projects like a hydroelectric dam on a major river.

As a good neighbor I am asking Gov. Shumlin, Mary Powell and Dorothy Schnure to stop for a moment and reflect. The wind turbines on the top of the Lowell Mountains are a done deal. The water holding capacity of the mountain range has been reduced considerably and the environment has been changed forever. I’m asking Green Mountain Power to put the “community” back into Lowell Community Wind. Please demonstrate to those of us who will be living in the presence of your wind farm that you care about us as well as your profits and government subsidies. Please, please choose a lighting system for your wind turbines that is radar activated with motion sensors. I’ll enjoy the graceful turnings of your turbine rotors during the day, but I don’t want to see the throbbing of your red lights at night. I want to see the Milky Way overhead instead. This is the least you can do for us who live here.

There has also been talk from wind turbine supporters of healing rifts between people. Please remember that healing involves forgiveness. Green Mountain Power can remedy this situation by dropping all charges against the so-called trespassers and protesters. Try it. You might be surprised what a little goodwill can accomplish.

To Gov. Shumlin and everyone else who wants to ram through as many high-elevation ridgeline projects as possible, I say slow down and take a deep breath. Let’s see how well these wind turbines are going to perform this winter when the entire top of the mountain is covered with hoar frost and the conditions are like the Arctic. Maybe a statewide referendum is in order to determine how Vermonters really feel about industrial wind. And last, but not least, how about a little more help for those of us with smaller scale non-corporate wind turbines and other renewable energy projects? If you would help me run a 2-mile, three-phase power line to my farm, we could triple the energy output of our little Vestas V-15 turbine. That’s renewable energy that is actually good for the environment.

Comments

  1. Alice Allen :

    As always, Jack Lazor is the voice of reason and sanity! Jack KNOWS of what he speaks! I, too, ask the powers-that-be to PLEASE, slow down, take a deep breath and reflect on what has been done and what may come in the future. And:
    “Please remember that healing involves forgiveness. Green Mountain Power can remedy this situation by dropping all charges against the so-called trespassers and protesters”.
    MANY thanks to Jack for sharing his thoughts!

  2. Zach Leonard :

    Well said Jack. Finally a voice of moderation rises up out of all of the controversy around this project. Thanks so much for raising some possible solutions that both sides of this issue can use to try to meet up somewhere in the middle. Now that Lowell Mountain is a done deal, let’s use it as an example of what works and does not work with industrial wind in Vermont. Before any more projects of this scale go forward, we the people of Vernont need more information and more say in how it is done. A two year moratorium on ridge line wind projects would let the dust settle and give us a lot more insight as to the real effects of building these giants on top of our ancient Green Mountains.

  3. ALEX BARNHAM :

    The transition from the TOTAL removal of an ENTIRE mountain for coal-fired generators as has been happening in West Virginia TO wind, solar, and hydro is not without cost. I hear southerns say how cheap electricity is and then I see the devastation in the coal country and it is business as usual and the consumers could care less. In other words, ME ME ME ME ME ME is all that matters. We all want unlimited electricity but don’t want to pay the true costs. If you want to really make a difference, forget the grid and make it yourself.

  4. ALEX BARNHAM :

    Am I being quixotic?

  5. Annette Smith :

    Yes and no. Deflecting the issue away from Vermont isn’t helpful to the discussion Vermont needs to have, and the attitude that it’s okay to build the equivalent of three Wal-Mart parking lots in the headwaters of a mountain because you’re not removing the entire mountaintop doesn’t make much sense.

    Living without the grid, though, is very realistic. It’s worked for me for more than 20 years and I highly recommend it.

  6. Cynthia Browning :

    I think that part of the future of agriculture in Vermont could be the production of power through windmills, solar panels, methane digesters, and biomass. We should be making grants and loans available to farmers who want to develop such small scale facilities as appropriate to their operations and locations.

    Then we are developing and diversifying the productivity of existing agricultural capacity, rather than destroying one kind of resource — mountain top ecologies — in the name of creating another — windpower. Then we are developing small scale and community based facilities that are not owned by large corporations whose activities are difficult to properly regulate.

    Thanks to Mr. Lazor for his piece.

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  7. Don Peabody :

    I wish Mr. Lazor—an accomplished and socially-responsible businessman—would delve further into the economics of this matter. I wish that because what he’s said about the physical downsides of mountaintop windmills echoes what I’ve heard opponents of claim; that is: As a result of the Lowell Mountain windmill project 1. there’s been significant environmental destruction atop—and up the side of—one of Vermont’s “signature” Green Mountains; 2. there’s been sufficient degradation of the natural capacities of the landscape that things happened after a normal rainstorm that don’t normally happen (and those downstream suddenly experienced being downstream in a new, and destructive, way;) 3. the project sufficiently degraded the viewscape that a person who’s generally okay with the aesthetics of windmills isn’t okay with these particular windmills half the time (night-time) and proposes modifications that might improve the situation for him. (But perhaps not migrating birds?)

    I wish Mr. Lazor had done—would do—an economic analysis, the bottom line of which reflected all the Lowell Mountain project’s costs to Vermonters. It may be true that, with a few “tweaks”, projects such as Lowell Mountain, would neither flood his corn nor offend his star-gazing eyes, but why create a situation where “tweaks” are necessary if the project—as opponents have also claimed—doesn’t make economic sense? I would surmise Mr. Lazor built his smaller, human-scaled windmill, with modest government subsidies and with minimal disruption to the environment. If my surmise is correct, that suggests a whole different approach to “sustainable” and “eco-friendly” power production than what’s now happening—with more proposed—atop our Green Mountains.

  8. I’ve photographed at Jack’s property—the windmill against the mountains and rising full moon. Beautiful. Jack didn’t say that a lightning strike a couple of years ago crippled his electric power.But to destroy a mountain top and the home of the ridge runners, the deer and bear? To increase erosion and flooding down below? What is Jack’s small windmill was installed on that mountain top with 10 others? Probably wouldn’t matter, the mountain top and road to it would still be destroyed.
    Two points: hillside Vermonters have always considered their ridgelines sacred. They still don’t like what Walter Foeger did to the summit of Jay Peak.

  9. (they were too anxious to post! I’m not finished!)

    The other point is that we are seeing large corporations move into Vermont and our power companies merge into something a little too big. Their monetary and political clout will change forever the way Vermonters have relished less is best and honesty before all.

  10. Gaelan Brown :

    Jack Lazor has indisputable integrity. I grew up as a neighbor of his. His organic diversified family farm is powered by human-scale wind and biomass energy, vs monopoly-owned govt subsidized mega-projects that disrupt our critical mountain ecosystems and watersheds. ”

    If Shumlin and the rest of the pretend-progressives in the Democratic leadership of Vermont want Vermont to be powered by renewable energy, WHY did they let TransCanada buy 580MW of hydropower on the Deerfield/Ct Rivers, and why did they let TransCanada DISCONNECT that power from Vermont’s grid, selling ALL that cheap reliable base load renewable energy to MA?

    These hydro plants are enough power to cover 75% of Vermont’s total annual power needs! And they already exist! Vermont does not need to industrialize our ridge-lines with tax-subisidize industrial wind owned by FOREIGN MONOPOLIES.

    I’m glad to see people from the “left”, like Jack Lazor, wake up and CALL OUT SHUMLIN FOR HIS HYPOCRITICAL ACTIONS THAT ONLY BENEFIT FOREIGN MEGA-CORPS LIKE GAZ-METRO AND TRANS-CANADA.

    • Rob Roy Macgregor :

      Ummm, maybe because Shumlin wasn’t in office at the time?
      Douglas was….

    • Dennis Shanley :

      Two points Gaelan,

      1)Mr Macgregor is spot on right about who nixed that deal. Douglas threatened a veto before a vote came up in the legislature. It ranks up near the top in the list of actions he did/didn’t do that were most destructive over the long term for Vermont.

      2) Please don’t SHOUT! It not only is quite rude but it singles you out as someone most people would rather not listen to.

  11. Peter Harvey :

    I think putting wind turbines on mountains, in our faces is what we need. Vermont is only a “green” state because we are such a successful importer/exporter NIMBY state. We import others resources and export our trash. The degradation from our endlessly increasing demand for electricity, fuel oil, gasoline, and trash are all hidden from view, out of state, not our problem, while our entitlement for these “necessities” only escalates. Hiding our problems from our view shed has only supported continued demand and escalation of things that we really don’t need so much of. We seem to only notice when we are personally hurt, not when others out of state are hurt. My hope is that the quixotic jousting at windmills is aimed at more than the NIMBY – “I don’t want to see what I am doing, NOT IN MY VIEW SHED.”

    • Randy Koch :

      Peter should try a little thought experiment: imagine being powerless to negotiate with the state’s most powerful players–governor, courts, PSB, millionaire developers. You must watch your pasture being placed off limits by court order to your belted Gallways. Your forest is ripped up for construction roads, turbine pads of pharoonic proportions, transmission lines. Now your cows are scared out of their minds by blasting and when all is said and done your sleep is made impossible by the lights and the stobic pressure and relentless noise of the turbine blades. Then you don’t fight back, you actually volunteer your peaceful situation to be turned into hell on earth just to show the rest of us what a heroic, stoic anti-nimby looks like.

  12. William Boardman :

    This piece vividly illustrates the policy question.

    Small or big, local or regional, individual/communal or corporate?

    Is it better for Vermont to have smaller, local windmills for mostly local power consumption — or to have vast industrial-scale installations that may or may not serve Vermonters with any consistency?

    The better choice seems obvious, but state & federal governments prefer the “economies of scale” of the corporate model.

    • Gaelan Brown :

      William, you mean the “foreign owned monopoly model”

  13. Stephanie Kaplan :

    Don’t forget — for all those who don’t like Shumlin’s pro-corporate, pro-industrial-wind-regardless-of-the-environmental-destruction policies — write in Annette Smith of Danby for Governor on the Progressive Party primary ballot next Tuesday (if you haven’t done so already). And tell your friends!

  14. Glenn Czulada :

    This is crazy. Do you know that the Lowell Mtn wind project is only 63 MW. It’s yearly output will be at most 30% of that or about 20 MW. A very small nat gas plant can create 1000 MW, 24/7. The nuclear plant not too far from me sits on a footprint of about 100 acres and creates 2400 MW 24/7 almost 365 days per year. That is over 100 times the output of the Lowell Mtn project. Also, here is what is so ridiculous. Because wind output is so intermittent, we will need to build the coal, nuclear or nat gas plants anyway to work when the wind isn’t blowing, like today when there is nary a breeze. Sure there is mountaintop destruction for coal, but what would you rather have, destruction of one mountaintop or the ruination of hundreds or maybe even thousands of mountaintops or prairie’s. A study showed that the coal produced from one coal mine created the same energy as all the wind turbine in acres covering hundreds of thousands of acres.(Robert Boyce) Learn to do some math.

    • Glenn,

      It is grabbing of excessive subsidies by Shumlin’s friends, the top 1%, that gives rise to these projects.

      They are in it for the write offs and tax credits to reduce their huge personal incomes. After those are exhausted in about 5 years, they will sell off the project for about 50% of the original cost to new owners.

      These projects have a useful life of about 20 years, produce expensive junk energy (10c/kWh subsidized, 15c/kWh unsubsidized) that cannot be fed into the grid, unless the grid has quick-ramping OCGTs and CCGTs to smooth out the variability of wind energy.

      In New England, there has been almost no wind and no rain all summer.

      That means the entire capacity of generators (staffed, maintained in good order, fueled) will be needed when wind energy is absent or near zero which happens about 25% of the hours of the year in New England, about 10-15% of the hours of the year in windier areas, such as the Great Plains.

  15. In the past three years (since making an an effort to educate myself on the pros and cons of ‘industrial wind’) I have encountered a multitude of “Jack Lazors’. And… I’m thankful for them.

    As an opponent of ‘mountaintop industrial wind’ I often battle the wind industry/wind lobby, which tries to portray me and others with the same message as ‘anti-wind’ or ‘anti-renewable’. I am/we are neither. I support any private land-owner who tries to do his or her part to generate electricity for private use…just like I support home-owners’ conservation efforts– and just like I support communities who try to find methods/means of reducing their power consumption.

    I respect and applaud those who speak with reasonable voices. Once upon a time, I was an advocate for ANY so-called ‘renewable’…but that was because I hadn’t looked at the whole picture. I hadn’t paid attention to the science, the economics, the ethics or the common sense behind our states’ (and federal government’s) energy policies.

    Mr. Lazor is not a fanatic. He’s not ‘partisan’. He is a citizen who believes that there must be alternatives to the ‘mess’ we‘re in. There ARE…and real change will come from reasonable and clear-speaking citizens such as Mr. Lazor. There is no credible cause to rush into a policy which could have far-reaching and detrimental effects to our environment, our health or our pocket-books. A ‘time out’ is needed..and necessary…if we are to look at this issue with clear eyes and open hearts.

    A moratorium on further industrial wind development is a common-sense request/suggestion. I am appreciative of Mr. Lazor’s deliberative and reasonable approach to this sometimes-emotional — and always-personal — issue.

    Respectfully,

    Karen Pease
    Lexington Township, Maine

  16. Mark Dunbar :

    I’m a farmer from craftsbury. The veiw from my farm is Belvedere mt, and the lowell range. Thank you for your words. I too, have stayed largely out of the fray with neighbors on both sides. That was a good article. Respectfully, Mark W. Dunbar Four Winds Farm, Craftsbury.

  17. Matthew Mientka :

    That was a terrificly moderate voice… and I don’t understand residents who are either fully supportive or opposed. Yes, energy is good and without dense sources of energy our society would wind down like a child’s toy. The environment is part of the economy and should be spent carefully and wisely for the greatest good.

    Unlike this letter writer, however, I don’t think the wind towers are beautiful and I DO think it’s his business what goes on on “private property.”

    We should take a break and spend this environment s-l-o-w-l-y and carefully.

  18. Hilton Dier :

    Jack, with regards to the obstruction lighting – there is such a thing as a 5-degree cutoff fixture. It has a slightly dished reflector disk below the light. An observer has to be looking down at the light from more than a 5 degree angle to see it. Airplanes can see them fine, people on the ground can’t.

    With regards to the viability of living off grid – I did it for fifteen years or so, and eventually hooked up. It is *not* realistic for the vast majority of people. For one, there isn’t enough lead for that many batteries. If we went to lithium ion batteries, there wouldn’t be enough of that, either. We are stuck with a no-storage grid. Another insurmountable problem is the vast social engineering that would be required to get people to cut their electrical use enough to live off grid. And then there is the cost – small distributed generation and storage is beyond the means of most.

    I hear people saying “slow down” about developing wind power. I’d respond that we are far behind where we need to be in terms of developing renewable energy. We have delayed beyond the point of having a soft landing after peak oil/gas/coal/uranium. It takes decades to transfer from one energy source to another. Historically we have never been in the bind like this, trying to transfer away from a declining resource. We need to learn faster how to implement renewable energy better.

    Many thanks to Jack for his gentle and nuanced approach.

  19. john burton :

    if the beauty in vermont is in her landscape why are billboards outlawed and wind turbines are allowed?

    • Bruce Post :

      Very perceptive question.

      In the late 1980’s, I lived in North Dakota. North Dakota has no mountains; Vermont does. North Dakota has billboards; Vermont doesn’t.

      The tourism office in North Dakota embarked on a humorous billboard campaign to promote the state. I remember two slogans in particular:

      1. George Custer and the 7th Cavalry had their HQ at Fort Abraham Lincoln, across the Missouri River from Bismarck, before embarking on their ill-fated mission to the Little Big Horn. One of the ND billboards announced STAY IN NORTH DAKOTA — CUSTER WAS HEALTHY WHEN HE LEFT.

      2. In my mind, the real winner was: WELCOME TO NORTH DAKOTA — MOUNTAINTOP REMOVAL PROCESS COMPLETED.

      So, ironic isn’t it? We here in Vermont, where we have no billboards, actually have our own honest-to-goodness mountaintop removal process underway! Somehow, I don’t think you’ll see that announced on any Vermont billboard soon.

  20. Bruce Post :

    Avram and Doug, I have been all the way up Lowell Mountain. Something seems to be missing. Where did it go?

    Perhaps Doug is right: If people equate mountaintop removal with blasting “the whole mountain off, out, it disappears”, words Deb Markowitz used in a VPR interview back in April where she seemed to intimate that, because it is much worse elsewhere, we should feel better in Vermont, then I might find a new choice of words.

    Back in 1912, the Report of the Commission on the Conservation of Natural Resources of the State of Vermont assessed the horrific condition of Vermont’s environment and described the woodlands as “skinned.” So, maybe the top of Lowell Mountain has been skinned, peeled, exfoliated, delaminated, scaled, and on and on.

    Now, Avram, you mentioned that Jack Lazor was “well-intentioned.” Are you suggesting that I am not?

  21. john burton :

    We Vermonters don’t tolerate billboards because we don’t want our state looking like an industrial park in New Jersey. These windmills are strictly third world. When I see the bureaucrats turn down the thermostats, the cops patrolling neighborhoods on bicycles, Shumlin riding a bus to the statehouse…I’ll get serious about renewable energy.

  22. Peter Morris :

    Currently, the unique architectural landmarks of Timbuktu in Mali are deliberately being destroyed by Al Queda-connected, rebels. Because their sect of the religion considers these temples and tombs an affront to Allah. These are ancient treasured World Heritage sites, valued by the entire world community.

    In 2001, the Taliban in Afghanistan, destroyed the tallest Buddah statues on the globe with cannon fire and explosives. Their reasoning was similar to the rebels in Mali, These were located in Bamiyan. The taller of the two stood at 420 feet tall, and was carved into a sandstone cliff during the 6th century AD. Another horrific loss to the planet, which can never be replaced.

    Here in Vermont we are seeing a similar devastation being mounted on our most treasured landmarks: Our Mountains. Which are millions of years older than the two examples above. The Taliban… er, Shumlin Administration… seems in a rather large rush to desecrate our holy sites with as many wind towers as possible. I see no difference between Bamiyan and Sheffield, Lowell, Georgia, Newark, and the rest of the projected wind farms.

    In a state that outlawed billboards, saved Spruce Mountain in Plainfield, put up a valiant fight to keep Wal-Mart out, battled Pyramid Mall in Williston, created Green Up Day, etc. Does anyone remember the instant uproar when the state started vaporizing the ledges along I-89? Where are those concerned citizens who fought these past attempts to destroy our heritage and natural beauty? We need you now! If we lack the power, as citizens, to stop this… why not just bring back roadside billboards, while we’re at it?

    Please note that nearly all of this destruction is happening in our NorthEast Kingdom. The most pristine part of our state. As far as possible from Putney. I will know that Peter Shumlin is truly a lover of wind towers, when there is an array of thirty 450+ foot towers in full view of his front porch. And, that facilitating these eye-sores is not just a diversionary tactic, in hopes we’ll forget that he had just eliminated 75% of the energy produced in Vermont. Clean, carbon-neutral, energy, at that!

    You can’t disconnect a 220 Amp circuit from your household, and expect to replace that with a handful of AAA batteries.

    Not long ago, we possessed the leverage to offer Entergy, and the state of Vermont, a deluxe win/win outcome on Vermont Yankee. Our current Governor’s long-standing personal vendetta against the nuclear plant, 12 miles downstream of his residence, obliterated any chance of a win/win. Vermont is now left with a permanent lose/lose scenario. We still have an operating plant in Vernon, but we will not be receiving one Watt of power from it! Plus, millions of your tax dollars will be going toward paying off Shumlin’s personal law suit(s) against Entergy. Make that: Lose/ Lose/ Lose!

    Shumlin cheered when the Vernon plant was eliminated from our electrical power grid. And, he also cheered when power from the Seabrook nuclear plant was added to our replacement energy mix. I’ll let you connect the dots on what that might suggest.

    • Peter,

      “We still have an operating plant in Vernon, but we will not be receiving one Watt of power from it!”

      Each time you turn on a light in Vermont, etc., 26% of the energy is nuclear, including nuclear energy from Vermont Yankee.

      Vermont utilities not having contracts with VY, does not mean utilities in OTHER New England states do not have contacts with VY.

      • Peter Morris :

        Thanks William,

        If I understand correctly… even tho the major Vermont utility companies have exed VY from the sources they purchase energy from, out of state sources that sell to us, can buy their power from VY and then sell it back to use as middle men. We are still benefiting from VY… just not directly.

        Did I get that right?

        There is a similar thread on LinkedIn that was started by Gloria Bruce. That became rather illuminating, as many of our other good options (that do not require strip mining our mountains) were brought to light. Including a nuclear technology being developed by Nathan Myrvold that uses spent nuclear rods for fuel. That solves two major issues!

        Too many better options than making Vermont the ‘Propeller Beanie State’ to rush into wind. We have enough problems without paying for higher energy rates from wind. But, Shumlin seems to feel justified in risking IBM to move away for cheaper power… and potentially destroying our tourism industry. Is destroying Vermont really worth solving his personal vendetta with Entergy?

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