Smith: Whoa! to wind energy development in Vermont

Editor’s note: This op-ed is by Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

It is not too late for Vermont to stop and take a serious look at wind turbine development on our mountains.

In fact, now is exactly the right time to step back and evaluate what we know, and build on experience.

When polled, most Vermonters say they support wind energy. Imagining the Searsburg turbines, I answered “yes, even near my house.” They are only 197 feet tall, unlighted, not too many, not very visible. I thought they were beautiful when I saw them in 2001.

When Vermonters started calling VCE in 2009 seeking assistance with wind proposals, I quickly learned the technology has changed.

Today’s machines are “big. They’re very, very big,“ said Jeff Wennberg, while promoting the Ira project. Vermont’s Public Service Board (PSB) has approved four projects with turbines ranging from 410 to 459 feet tall. Vermonters have not been asked what they think about anything that big.

Vermonters who live near mountains where wind turbines have been proposed have learned about all the issues associated with the technology. Call them NIMBYs or wackos, yell at them if they use the word “industrial” instead of “utility scale,” call them a vocal minority or a fringe group, they now number in the thousands and have had to become educated by reason of location.

If you live in the “sacrifice zone” of wind energy development (draw a circle with a radius of two miles from the ridgeline — you get the impacts but no compensation), you learn that wind turbines:

a) collapse, catch fire, throw ice, throw blades,
b) kill birds like raptors, and endangered bats
c) require cutting bear-scarred beech trees and fragmenting wildlife habitat
d) destroy songbird habitat
e) require hundreds of thousands of pounds of explosives to blast miles of new roads
f) require impervious road construction on highly erodible soils
g) require filling headwater streams and degrading water quality, resulting in fewer fish
h) make noise extending over a mile that can interrupt sleep and make people sick
i) are being permitted less than 200 feet from property lines
j) have blinking lights and industrialize the landscape
k) divide communities; turn neighbors, family members and towns against each other and more, with issues unique to ridgeline development in Vermont.

One large project is under construction in Sheffield, with 16 turbines 420 feet tall and seven miles of new roads. This kind of development is new to Vermont, and has the potential to change the face of the state. With more than a dozen communities targeted for proposals, this subject deserves more thoughtful consideration than is provided by two lawyers and one businessman in Montpelier who are making decisions on a case-by-case basis without any statewide planning.

Questions have been raised about PSB-approved wind projects that will be answered soon, once the Sheffield project goes on line and operates through a winter. We have the perfect opportunity to evaluate the performance of First Wind’s project.

  • Will the stormwater control design protect the high quality water resources and control the volume of water coming off the mountains?
  • Will noise be a problem for neighbors?
  • Will the technology withstand brutal winter conditions?
  • Will lights be an issue?
  • Will wind turbines inhibit or enhance tourism and the second home market?
  • How many permanent jobs with benefits will be created?
  • What will the capacity factor be?
  • How many birds and bats, and what type, will be killed?
  • What happens to the wildlife whose habitat is changed?
  • Will the PSB enforce its conditions?

We are in a fragile economy, with a glut of electricity available in New England at low cost for the foreseeable future. The price of solar energy is declining every day. More than 90 percent of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions are from heating and transportation.

With so much at stake for Vermont, the prudent thing to do is stop, look and listen. Wind developers and our political leaders owe it to all Vermonters and our wild creatures to make sure we get this right.

On Friday, former Gov. Jim Douglas was on Vermont Public Radio and was asked about big wind turbines. He said, “…the natural beauty of Vermont is our strong suit, and to put these big machines on our precious ridgelines is not something that’s in the state’s interest…. I think it’s the wrong choice for Vermont.”

We have a lot to lose. Getting it wrong will be a very expensive mistake. For those people living near Vermont’s big wind energy proposals, it already has been.

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  • brett jabocs

    “k) divide communities; turn neighbors, family members and towns against each other and more, with issues unique to ridgeline development in Vermont.” People do that to themselves, like you are doing with this “seemingly” reasonable article.

  • Alex Barnham

    There are two ways to stop consuming. One is to stop producing. That ***** off the consumer. Have you ever, ever, in your wildest imaginations, ever thought of the other way?

  • Alex Barnham

    You have to love life more than money in order to live in freedom. The love of money is the gun to your childrens’ head and the end of real peace.

  • I think the noise issue is significant. Right now Vermont is one of the quietest places in the US and the rich life of natural sounds can never be regained once it’s lost. I know, because my neighbor put up a noisy turbine that is now the soundtrack to my daily life, often canceling out the sounds of birds, wind in the trees, peepers, owls, etc. We have people like David Blittersdorf of Earth Turbines to thank for this, the wealthy developer/business man who seems to have no qualms about siting these machines without regard to impact in residential areas, pitting land owner against land owner. And these turbines are small compared to what is being proposed for our ridge lines.

  • Keth Comollo

    I find the turbines, even the big ones, to be beautiful. This article raises concerns on topics that have already been answered and can easily be perceived as fear mongering. For example the “withstand brutal winter conditions” question has been answered many times. The answer to all of your questions is already available. No need to keep asking them until you are willing to do a bit of research.

    • You like them, all the questions have been answered, so why are so many Vermonters expressing opposition? The answer to the brutal winter conditions at Searsburg has been damaged blades, a collapsed turbine, lightning strikes, and those are relatively small. What there is no need for is a rush to build a technology that raises so many issues for this state.

  • Noise is indeed a big problem which does not get the proper attention from government agencies.

    The 21 wind turbines of the Lowell Mountain facility emit noise from machinery and irregular, pulsating, whoosh-type noise from the rotors. The noises are emitted 24/7/365, for 20 or more years.

    Traditionally, state government codes dealt mostly with measured sound values that are weighed (adjusted) using the A scale which covers most of the audible frequencies. For lower frequencies, such as those emitted by large wind turbines, additional scales need to be used as follows:

    Infrasound vibrations below 20 cps; dB weighed with the G scale, dB(G).
    Low frequency noises, LFN, in the range of 20 – 200 cps; dB weighed with the C scale, dB(C).
    Most audible noises in the range of 200 – 20,000 cps; dB weighed with the A scale, dB(A).

    Below 20 cps (infrasound) and above 20,000 cps (ultrasound) most people do not “hear” noise, but a person’s ears are sensitive to infrasound vibrations which cause, in SOME people, nausea, headaches, sleeplessness, elevated blood pressure, etc. The vibrations often are worse indoors than outdoors due to resonating of house walls. The symptoms usually disappear after people move away and reappear after they move back. It is somewhat similar to sea sickness induced by the ship’s vibrations and motion. Some people are more susceptible than others. Soon after they are ashore, the symptoms disappear.

    The symptoms studied typically are from exposure to the LFN from smaller wind turbines, say 2 MW with 290 ft diameter rotors, as on Lempster Mountain, New Hampshire. The 3 MW Lowell Mountain wind turbines, with 373 ft diameter rotors, on 280 ft masts, on 2,000 ft high ridge lines, will have greater impacts over larger areas.

    During the day ambient noise in rural areas is much greater than at night, whereas the wind turbine noise is greater at night than during the day, because of greater wind speeds. The result is that people notice wind turbine noise much more at night than during the day.

    Because there were relatively few wind turbines in the past, complaints were less. As wind turbines became more numerous and larger, complaints became more numerous.

    Dismissing the effects as mostly psychological and saying the physical effects are due to something else is not an option; there are just too many people near large wind turbines with complaints. It is better to
    deal with the problem.

    People living in flat terrain with wind turbines should be at least 1.25 miles (2 km) from any wind turbine. People living in mountainous terrain with turbines on ridge lines should be at least 2 miles (3.2 km) from any wind turbine.