The Wind Power Debate — Gina Owens

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(HOST) The debate about the merits of wind energy has become more than philosophical in Searsburg. A proposal received by the USDA Forest Service would expand an existing wind tower field onto public land on the Green Mountain National Forest. District Ranger Gina Owens finds herself at the eye of the storm.

(OWENS) It’s early Saturday morning and I am quietly paddling my kayak across Somerset Reservoir. As I look off to my right, my gaze settles on the top of a nearby ridgeline. I see blue sky against the beautiful green mountain top, and I see several wind turbines silently turning in the wind.

I try to visualize what thirty more turbines, much larger than those there now, would look like across the ridgeline and I wonder what kind of a difference it would make to my paddling experience. I get asked questions like this every day now that the Forest Service has received a proposal from Deerfield Wind, to expand the existing wind farm operation.

Deerfield Wind wants to build thirty additional turbines on public land in the Green Mountain National Forest near Searsburg and Readsboro, VT.

The idea of using public lands to develop energy sources is not new to the Forest Service. For many years, the Forest Service has supported the nation’s demand for energy as a part of its mission through sources such as geothermal energy, oil & gas exploration, and wood for personal firewood use and biomass production.

The question at hand for us, becomes: Is this the right use for this ridgeline within the Green Mountain National Forest, and is it within the capability of the land and the public’s values?

Like Don Quixote charging at windmills he sees as dragons, people are coming forward to share their truths of what they believe are the issues to consider in evaluating this proposal for public land use. The challenge for the Forest Service is that not all are charging at the same windmills.

Some view wind power as an environmentally conscientious answer to the area’s growing energy needs. Others see it as the end to the Vermont tradition of preserving its solitude and rugged natural beauty. The differing view points make me wonder if we can find the “right” balance for the land and people.

We are at the beginning of a lengthy public process to evaluate the proposal. The Forest Service is asking for public comments on the Deerfield Wind proposal and will continue to accept comments until the final decision is made in late 2006.

While it’s not my decision to make, I am responsible for the process of evaluating the proposal. This means that I make sure the right questions are asked and answered about the environ-
mental and social consequences of expanding the existing wind farm on public land. It also means making sure that the public understands the proposal and has the opportunity to ask questions and share their thoughts, concerns and values.

After reviewing the information about the environmental and social consequences and gathering all the thoughts, questions and concerns of the public, Forest Supervisor Paul Brewster will come to a final decision – and it isn’t likely to be an easy one. It’s one of those times when it seems that no matter which way the decision goes, we may look back and wonder if we made the best choice, and what we have gained or lost.

I’m hopeful that, through our collective efforts, we are able to say we made the best choice resulting in the greatest good, for the greatest number of people over the long run.

This is Gina Owens of Sunderland.

Gina Owens is the District Ranger for the southern half of the Green Mountain National Forest.

Tomorrow morning, our special commentary series continues with Karla Wilbur of Sheffield, where the debate will also have direct consequences.

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