Public Service Board OK’s wind measuring towers for Seneca Mountain Wind

One of the Kingdom Community Wind project turbines in Lowell. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

One of the Kingdom Community Wind project turbines in Lowell. Photo by Andrew Stein/VTDigger

The Public Service Board last week gave the Seneca Mountain Wind project the go-ahead to build four temporary meteorological (MET) towers in the Northeast Kingdom, despite local opposition.

The quasi-judicial board permitted two MET towers in Brighton, one in Ferdinand and one in Newark. The board’s approval of the measurement towers flies in the face of Newark’s town plan, which was altered to oppose wind projects after Seneca Mountain was proposed. Since Newark voted to rewrite the plan after the initial application of the MET towers, the board used the unchanged plan that was in existence at the time.

Standing no more than 200 feet tall, the towers will measure wind potential for a possible ridgeline wind development, which developers say would not exceed 60 megawatts. New Hampshire-based developer Eolian Renewable Energy LLC and the European-based turbine manufacturer Nordex USA Inc. submitted the MET tower application more than a year ago.

That was before Green Mountain Power’s 64.5-megawatt Lowell Mountain Wind project was completed. Over the past six months, the New England grid operator has regularly curtailed power output from the 21-turbine project due — in large part — to a weak northern Vermont grid that is flooded with intermittent renewable electricity.

A Seneca Mountain project would hook into this part of the grid.

For the past two legislative sessions, Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, has pushed for a moratorium on utility-scale wind developments. At the outset of the 2013 session, he warned that large wind projects were pushing the capacity of the northern Vermont grid.

Benning represents the towns where the MET towers will be built.

Tuesday, the senator wrote to Gov. Peter Shumlin, who has staunchly supported the proliferation of large wind projects in Vermont.

“As you know, permission to install MET towers is the traditional first step in a two step process that (more often than not) leads to construction of an industrial wind generating facility,” Benning wrote.

“Your office guides the policy decisions that underlie this State’s energy plans,” the minority leader continued. “I implore you to use your efforts to cease further construction of industrial-sized generating facilities in the Northeast Kingdom until actual need can be demonstrated and infrastructure limitations can be addressed.”

The permit, called a certificate of public good, has a long list of conditions. Eolian must inventory rare plants in the area prior to construction of the towers and obtain a range of state permits. The developer cannot begin construction at the Newark site during winter, and none of the towers are allowed lighting. The MET towers must be removed and the site must be restored within five years of the permit.

John Soininen, Eolian project manager for Seneca Mountain, said that the company is still sifting through the 80-plus-page order.

“It’s unfortunate the timing,” he said. “This has been a very lengthy process and there are seasonal restrictions on several of the MET tower sites, so the reality is that several of the MET towers are not really practical to be able to install until sometime next summer.”

Despite the seasonal regulations, Soininen said he is pleased with the board’s decision.

“We believe this decision is reasonable and appropriate given the laws regulating this type of activity and that the decision is consistent with prior decisions by the board,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work towards a defined project plan for a wind farm that can bring substantial clean energy and economic development benefits to Vermonters.”

Laura “Tommy” Rodgers, chair of the Newark Selectboard, said she wasn’t notified of the approval until she picked up her morning paper.

“I read it this morning in the Caledonian-Record, and that’s the first I knew of it,” she said.

Andrew Stein

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