Nearly 200 protesters from across the state descended on Montpelier Friday to call for a moratorium on industrial, mountaintop wind development.
The activists, many of whom are personally affected by proposed projects or wind turbines that have already been constructed, gathered on the Statehouse lawn to vent their frustrations. Over the course of an hour about 10 people spoke. The protesters said they felt they had no say in the process, they said they were concerned about a lack of investigation into the potential environmental effects of the turbines on the state’s ridgelines and a lack of respect for town policies.
At intervals the whole crowd would shout out words like “shame,” “greed” or “Shamlin” to deride Gov. Peter Shumlin’s support of industrial wind.
With beating drums and anti-wind signs held high, the protest culminated with the issuance of a “Certificate of Public Harm” to Shumlin, his administration, 11 wind developers and other government bodies. The symbolic “certificate” is a send-up of the Public Service Board’s certificate of public good, which is a required permit for certain energy developments.
Issued “by the People of the State of Vermont,” the certificate accuses the aforementioned entities of violating “Vermont’s environmental, social, and economic well-being,” and it cites examples of how they have done so. The document, which can be viewed below, points to issues with particular wind projects across the state, such as the Georgia Mountain Community Wind project, Lowell’s Kingdom Community Wind and the Northfield Ridge project.
Last week, Shumlin issued an executive order to form a five-member commission with the purpose of looking at how public participation can be improved in the energy permitting process and how that process can be streamlined. While some protesters called on the Shumlin administration and the Public Service Board to halt permitting wind projects until the commission has made recommendations, others called for a permanent moratorium.
Lukas Snelling, director of the renewable energy advocacy group Energize Vermont and grandson of the late Gov. Richard Snelling, kicked off the rally on Friday.
“We’re here today to send a message to the Public Service Board and Gov. Shumlin and his administration that we do not agree with their support of utility scale wind on our ridgelines,” he said. “We are a group of Vermonters that have seen the impacts of utility-scale wind in our communities. We have seen that … it causes massive destruction to our natural resources. And worst of all, it divides our communities.”
Other Vermonters — like former Fish and Wildlife Department Commissioner Steve Wright and the Brighton Ridge Protectors, a group opposing the Seneca Mountain Wind project — echoed similar sentiments.
Fourth-generation Vermonter Allen Mills criticized Manchester-based Reunion Power and the turbine manufacturer Nordex USA, Inc for their proposed, 20-turbine project on Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline in Rutland County.
“Nordex and Reunion Power are modern-day carpetbaggers descending like vultures on financially stressed towns in Vermont,” said Mills. “They try to take advantage of these towns, and they have because the federal government and specifically Gov. Shumlin make laws and policies tailored directly to them.”
Randy Brock, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who opposes the projects and the way they are permitted, was also in attendance at the rally.
“What I, among others in the Senate, have proposed is a moratorium on industrial wind,” he said in an interview. “I think there are so many unanswered questions, and as these projects are developed I think we need to have both the administration and the Legislature ask a lot more questions, take more testimony and listen to people.
“This isn’t going to do anything for us in terms of removing an addiction to oil and coal,” Brock continued. “You’re not going to close any oil or coal fire plants with the addition of industrial wind. And our mountaintops are not renewable — pure and simple.”
After the protest, Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, spoke to VTDigger about the event.
“I think protests generally are something Vermonters use to express their opinion, and we’re in support of Vermonters expressing their opinion when it comes to renewable energy,” she said. “The governor, the administration and I are in support of renewable energy, and we want to see it succeed, and to do that it needs public approval. I understand there are Vermonters who are concerned, and of course that’s something we’re listening to.”
When asked about the permitting process, she said that she thinks it is sufficient but it’s worth evaluating whether it needs to be improved.
“I believe the process we have in Vermont now is thorough and there are a lot of Vermonters who are in support of these renewable energy projects,” she said. “That doesn’t mean we’re not willing to look at the process and re-evaluate it. That’s why we created this siting commission.”