Developers defend wind proposal at NEK forum

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(Host) A few weeks from now, wind energy developers will ask state regulators for permission to build a $10 million project in East Haven. But the developers still face a hard sell in the Northeast Kingdom. Opponents turned out on Thursday to voice concerns about the impact of wind turbines on remote mountain ridges.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Outside the Alexander Twilight Theater at Lyndon State College, two competing visions of wind projects were on display. One color picture showed the developer’s computer simulation of four, 30-story wind turbines on East Mountain. Seen from seven miles away, the simulation makes the turbines look almost invisible.

On another table was the opponents view. The aerial photograph showed a large-scale wind development in Pennsylvania. Huge metal towers jutted out of a scarred mountain ridge.

There was little reconciling these two images at the forum sponsored by East Haven Windfarm. Opponents questioned how the lighted towers would look at night. They worried about the impact on tourism and their property values. And they complained that the Northeast Kingdom had been targeted for the new development.

Mike Michaud, a general contractor from Burke, questioned a study done for the developers that concluded wind projects do not lower property values.

(Michaud) “I haven’t done my own study, but I know two cases where homeowners have decided not to build because of the threat of wind towers in their area. Do you really think anybody would believe that this study has any credibility?”

(Dillon) David Rappaport, the vice president of East Haven Windfarm, dismissed what he called anecdotes and rumors about property values. He said some people chose to live near the wind towers because they like looking at them.

Some in the audience also questioned the developer’s future plans. Rappaport’s company wants to build up to 50 of the 300-foot turbines in the Northeast Kingdom. Other companies also have plans to build on nearby ridgelines.

Northeast Kingdom resident Katie Anderson asked Windfarm President Matt Rubin if he would abandon the project if he faced strong public opposition. But Rubin said the development enjoys strong support in East Haven.

(Rubin) “We will not put the project on hold, nor will we stop. We believe the town of East Haven has spoken overwhelmingly in favor. We believe that the surveys that have been done show that Vermonters as a whole are overwhelmingly in favor.”

(Dillon) There’s also growing debate around the state over what happens after the wind turbines end their useful life. Rubin said he would not set up a fund to remove the wind generators from the mountain ridge.

But that may not be the final word on the issue. Rob Ide, a former Caledonia County senator who now works for the Department of Public Service, says the state may try to require a decommissioning fund.

(Ide) “I would tell you we’re looking a little more favorably than unfavorably towards that type of decommissioning fund. We think that around the state people have this question, not only in East Haven but also in Londonderry and Manchester. And we think that it is part of prudent public policy to have a longer serious question about this question and I think we’re going to be quite diligent on that question.”

(Dillon) Rubin hopes to begin construction next summer on the four turbine project. If that proves successful, he’d like to expand the development into the former Champion timber lands in Essex County. But for the larger project to proceed, conservation easements that now protect the land would have to be changed. And that could put the issue before the Legislature for approval.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Lyndonville.

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