State utility regulators recently gave a boost to a wind energy developer eyeing a project in the Northeast Kingdom.
The Public Service Board refused to dismiss the developer’s application for a wind testing tower.
But the project still faces fierce local opposition. And there are growing calls for a statewide moratorium on ridgeline wind development.
The Public Service Board ruling went against the town of Newark in northern Caledonia County.
The board ruled that Seneca Mountain Wind’s application for a 200 foot tall testing tower could proceed, despite Newark’s objection that the developer had failed to notify all the adjoining landowners.
Jack Kenworthy is manager of Seneca Mountain Wind. He says the schedule for the project has slipped. The company hoped to have the meteorological testing equipment – called met towers – up and running by now.
"In terms of the project being on track, it is where it is," he says. "I think we won’t get decisions on the met towers now until sometime in the middle of the winter, which puts us in the spring time frame to be able to actually get met towers installed."
The Seneca project and several others proposed around the state have led to calls for a time-out on big wind development.
Caledonia Republican Senator Joe Benning wants a three year moratorium. Benning says he recently flew over the Northeast Kingdom, which is already home to large wind developments in Sheffield and Lowell.
"The pilot pointed out to me that there is no peak in the Northeast Kingdom from which you would not be able to see a power plant if this new project goes forward," he says. "And given that this is supposed to be the most remote region of the state, that we have the most pristine environment in the state, and that people come here for those very reasons, I think it’s a terrible impact all around."
Benning says the Northeast Kingdom is now a net exporter of electricity. And he worries about the cost of wind energy.
"Everybody knows they won’t get built unless they are given huge tax advantages," he says. "They have no way of staying operating without enhanced rates to the ratepayers. And this has gone from being a smart power policy to an obsession."
A leading utility executive says he’s also becoming skeptical of more wind projects. David Hallquist is CEO of the Vermont Electric Co-operative based in Johnson. The co-op buys some of the output of Green Mountain Power’s Lowell wind project.
But Hallquist says more wind and solar in the grid won’t do much to reduce the state’s greenhouse gas emissions. In Vermont, he says, electric generation accounts for just 4 percent of the state’s CO2 output. Transportation and heating fuels are responsible for much of the state’s global warming impact.
And wind, Hallquist says, doesn’t blow all the time. So it requires back up electricity on the grid – which comes from generators that burn fossil fuels.
"I listened very carefully to some of the arguments that the anti-wind folks have. Some of them didn’t make any sense," he says. "But there are a few of them that really, really hit me hard. And the whole question about having to back up renewables with natural gas facilities and the fact we have a low carbon footprint already.. I really took that to heart."
But Hallquist says a moratorium on wind in Vermont is unnecessary. He says the Legislature instead should avoid imposing more requirements on utilities to buy renewable energy.