The Wind Power Debate — Al Robertson

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(HOST) In some Vermont towns the wind energy debate has gone beyond the theoretical. This morning we heard from the Northeast Kingdom town of Sheffield, where Karla Wilbur has actively opposed a proposed wind project. This afternoon, we hear from Al Robertson, who was among those who supported it in a recent non-binding vote.

(ROBERTSON) Development controversy has again come to Sheffield – but to understand the controversy you have to understand the history and people of Sheffield.

Sheffield consists largely of rugged, undeveloped land, again forest after two hundred years of frustrated attempts at farming. There are no lakes or mountains that would give the town a claim to fame, only the dubious distinction as having the highest point on I-91.

Winter defines the landscape and the permanent residents. There are about four hundred and thirty parcels of land but only about two hundred homesteads, as the state fondly calls those who live here year-round. The majority of land is owned as camps, second homes, and forestland to be harvested and resold.

Many people have bought land in Sheffield, but only the hardy stay more than a few years. The Vermont land boom has also touched Sheffield. Out of state purchasers have made much of Sheffield way too expensive for the locals, and property tax delinquencies are on the rise.

The last development controversy involved the re-establishment
of a small quarry on an old quarry site. While the developer was ultimately successful in navigating the Act 250 process, it took years, and cost the developer way too much money. Perhaps the most notable aspect of the controversy was the level of disinformation that came from those opposed to the quarry. The enterprise ultimately failed because of the quality of the stone.

Now a developer is attempting to build a windfarm in a remote area of the town. Although the area is relatively low in elevation for a windfarm, it has a VELCO transmission line running through the middle making the economics of the windfarm better. Anemometer readings indicate that Sheffield indeed has a claim to fame — decent wind velocities and durations. But as before, the opponents to the development have come forth and spread a remarkable amount of disinformation on many aspects of the windfarm.

Despite this the town residents voted for the windfarm, and for town officials the vote came none too soon. Opponents to the windfarm had harassed and intimidated them for months. The Section 248 evaluation process allows little direct influence by local officials prior to a filing by the developer, but the opposition apparently didn’t understand how the Vermont process works.

And many of the other town residents didn’t fare much better.
The opposition was very strident in their dealings with residents, and appeared to be willing to say almost anything to sway opinion. Their tactics probably influenced as many people to vote for, as against the windfarm.

Sheffield residents have a long history of not liking being told what to do. Zoning has been voted down before, and many believe there are important issues involving property rights, since the developer is placing the turbines on private property. Their vote probably reflected their independence.

But a future vote by the residents would have more relevancies
to the Public Service Board once the Section 248 Process is well underway. When all the facts are available, all the data collected, the financial benefit to the town negotiated and disseminated, and the Agency of Natural Resources studies complete and published, that’s when an educated public should vote.

I’m Al Robertson of Sheffield.

Al Robertson is a retired engineer, tree farmer and town lister who supports the wind development project proposed for Sheffield.

Tomorrow morning in our special commentary series on the wind energy debate in Vermont, we’ll hear from artist Sabra Field, who has incorporated wind turbines into her representations of what she calls the “cultural landscape”.

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