GMP Asks Regulators To Rule On Wind Project

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(Host) Green Mountain Power is in a rush to build its Lowell Mountain wind project so it’s asked state utility regulators to hurry up and issue a final ruling.

But opponents charge the company is trying to cut corners. They say several major environmental questions remain unresolved.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) GMP needs to have its 21 turbines up and producing power by the end of next year in order to qualify for federal tax credits.

To meet that deadline, the company wants to begin construction on the first of August. So it’s put some pressure on the Public Service Board by asking the board to issue a final ruling "as early in July as practicable."

Dorothy Schnure is a company spokeswoman.

(Schnure) "We’re not asking the Public Service Board to rush. We’re asking that they render a decision as soon as it’s convenient. And that’s because delays could result in higher costs for our customers."

(Dillon) The PSB approved the project in late May, but it imposed numerous conditions on the developer.

GMP wants to the board to quickly settle a number of those regulatory issues. For example, it’s asked the board to give it more time to secure conservation easements to protect wildlife corridors.

The utility also has to obtain water quality permits from the state and a wetlands permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.

Steve Wright from Craftsbury is an opponent of the Lowell wind project. He says the company should not be allowed to begin construction until it’s met the board’s conditions and obtained the environmental permits.

(Wright) "There’s some serious challenges to all of those necessary permits. And they’re part of the set of conditions that the board issued on May 31st. So from our point of view we’re a long way away from any sort of definitive action regarding construction activity."

(Dillon) Opponents are also trying to convince members of the Vermont Electric Cooperative to reject plans to upgrade a transmission line that would carry power from Lowell Mountain. If the line is turned down, GMP would have to find an alternate route, prompting a new round of state permit reviews.

Schnure, the GMP spokeswoman, said the opponents are using delaying tactics.

She says the federal tax credits – if the company makes the 2012 deadline – are worth $40 million and would lower the cost of the electricity.

(Schnure) "I think delay is a traditional way that people fight projects. Unfortunately in this situation, we fully intend to build the project. And delay simply runs a greater risk of making costs higher for the thousands of GMP customers and VEC members."

(Dillon) Wright said the opposition’s goal is to kill the project, in part by making it impossible for GMP to meet the 2012 deadline for the tax credits.

(Wright) "Green Mountain Power has clearly stated in one public forum after another that were it not for production tax credits – subsidies, federal subsidies, your money and mine – that they would not be building this project. So they’re the ones that raised that issue. And we’ve taken them at their word."

(Dillon) GMP says the project will provide a clean, renewable source of electricity. But Wright and other opponents say the ridgeline wind development will do little to lower greenhouse gas emissions and will have an unacceptable impact on wildlife and upland streams. They say GMP is still submitting information to government agencies for its needed water quality permits.

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

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