Advocates call for lifting of ban on large scale wind projects

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(Host) Wind energy advocates want the Douglas administration to lift its ban on large-scale wind projects on state-owned land.

The advocates say Vermont needs to explore all options as it looks for new energy resources.

But Governor Jim Douglas remains opposed to the idea

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The state adopted a policy in 2004 that prohibits commercial scale wind projects on state-owned ridgelines.

Many state properties carry deed restrictions that prohibit development of any kind.

But Natural Resources Secretary Jonathan Wood says the state owns a handful of sites where the wind is strong and where development would not be restricted.

Wood told a legislative committee that he’s open to reconsidering the ban on wind development.

(Wood) "If the people of Vermont think this is an appropriate place for wind, and we go to them, and we decide, I’m happy to change the policy. This policy should reflect the people of Vermont and what their desires are and what their values are, not my personal opinion."

(Dillon) But Governor Jim Douglas administration policy has not changed. He said he was not swayed by a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld a permit for a commercial wind development on private land in the Northeast Kingdom.

(Douglas) "Personally, I don’t have a different view. I’m not a fan of huge industrial wind turbines that impair the pristine ridgelines of our state.”

(Dillon) Douglas says state lands should continue to be off-limits to commercial energy projects. He said opening land to wind projects is a "slippery slope" that could lead to other uses that the public may find objectionable.

(Douglas) "We’ve been reluctant to allow any kind of commercial activity or motorized activity like ATVs on state lands for example. We’ve followed the long-standing tradition of maintaining restrictions on what happens to property that’s set aside for all Vermonters to enjoy.”

(Dillon) Ken Nolan is director of resource planning at the Burlington Electric Department. The city-owned utility wants to buy renewable energy from projects in Vermont. But he says the state’s policy has stymied wind development.

(Nolan) "I think we’ve got conflicting directives here. If the state is truly trying to look at renewable resources and become self-sufficient, I think you need to start looking at all options. And just saying we’re not going to look at this one in particular, as far as I’m concerned is short-sighted.”

(Dillon) The chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee also supports using state land for wind power.  East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein pointed out that several ski areas are on state land.

Klein recently visited large wind developments near Ellenburg, New York, west of Plattsburgh.

(Klein) "These projects brought to one of the poorest counties $1 billion, injected into their local economy within four years. And 30 years of stabilized property taxes. Now, if that’s not possibility for future revenue for this state, I don’t know what is.”

(Dillon) Klein says the state needs new energy sources as existing power contracts phase out. He says wind should be part of the solution.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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