Developers fear for future of wind projects

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(Host) Wind energy developers are worried about the future of their industry in Vermont now that a hearing officer has recommended against a major project in the Northeast Kingdom.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Public Service Board hearing officer Kurt Janson boiled down months of testimony into four short words: right project, wrong place.

Janson said the four, 330-foot tall turbines planned for an old radar base in East Haven should not be built because they’re in the middle of remote wild lands that were protected from development. He said the wind turbines would be “shocking and offensive” to the average person using the area.

The decision is preliminary. The three-person board could approve the recommendation, reject it entirely, or impose conditions on the project.

Yet some wind developers are clearly worried.

(Charlebois) “If this doesn’t get overturned I just think that any reasonable person would have to conclude that the regulatory risk just got a little bit more intense.”

(Dillon) Bob Charlesbois is managing director of Catamount Energy. The company hopes to put up 19 turbines on Glebe Mountain in Windham County.

Charlesbois points out that the Glebe project would be built near an existing ski area. So the argument that project could harm a pristine, undeveloped area may not apply.

But he’s disappointed with the hearing officer’s recommendation because he says it didn’t provide much guidance on how to balance the aesthetic impact of wind turbines with the public benefit of renewable energy. Charlesbois hopes the board rejects the hearing officer’s proposed decision.

(Charlesbois) “Otherwise there’s just going to be more uncertainty as regards the future of wind energy in this state.”

(Dillon) Hearing officer Kurt Janson was careful to say that his recommendation should not be read as a blanket rejection of wind energy. And he suggested that there are ways that the East Haven project could win final approval.

Avram Patt is general manager of Washington Electric Cooperative, which is investing in a wind project planned for Sheffield.

(Patt) “In reading this particular proposal for decision – and I’ve read a lot in my day – Kurt Janson clearly seems to be holding out the possibility that the board may have some questions or concerns with his decision because he’s offering them some alternatives.”

(Dillon) David Rappaport is the vice president of the East Haven wind farm. Rappaport strongly disagrees with Janson’s conclusion that this is the right project in the wrong place.

(Rappaport) “If there’s any place where a wind project could go in Vermont it’s at this abandoned Cold War radar base on the top of East Mountain that has a road going all the way up to it.”

(Dillon) But the opponents of the project say Janson got it right. Vernon Gray is with the Kingdom Commons Group, which fought the proposal before the Public Service Board.

(Gray) “We feel that the hearing officer recognized that allowing any kind of commercial development at the very heart of these conserved lands would jeopardize maintaining it as a wilderness area for all Vermonters.”

(Dillon) Both sides have until March 27th to file additional legal arguments with the Public Service Board.

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

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