Protesters Voice Opposition To Lowell Wind Project

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(Host)Vermont lawmakers want to accelerate appeals of a controversial wind project in Lowell because they worry it could lose federal tax subsidies if it’s delayed.

But opponents of the Green Mountain Power development say their appeal rights could be violated if the bill passes.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Protesters) "What do we want? Our mountains back! When do we want it? Now!"

(Dillon)The chants of protesters mingled with the barks of sled dogs as about 100people voiced their opposition to 21 wind turbines planned for the Lowell Mountain Range.

Jim Blair of Eden Mills brought his team of six sled dogs to the Statehouse lawn to make the case that his tourism-based business could be hurt by the sound and sight of the 440-foot turbines on the nearby mountain. 

(Blair) "I think tourists that come -also visitors for the dog sledding – they’re looking to come for that wilderness experience and now it’s turned into the possibility of having it set in an industrial wind turbine setting, which sort of changes the whole picture."

(Dillon)But as the protesters gathered outside, inside the Statehouse lawmakers were moving legislation to help Green Mountain Power build the project on its own schedule.

GMP says the 20 to 21 turbines have to be operating by December 2012 to qualify for federal tax credits. Without that subsidy, the company says, the project may not be financially feasible.

But wind projects are controversial in Vermont.  The bill in the legislature would set a six-week deadline for the Public Service Board to decide appeals.

East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. He believes opponents will use appeals to run out the clock.

(Klein) "To just appeal something because it is going to slow down something and therefore you know that an entity is not going to be able to get some funding that is very, very time sensitive and therefore you believe that if they don’t get the funding then it won’t go ahead, well, that’s not debating the project on its merits."

(Dillon)But those involved in the Public Service Board review say they have tried to raise serious environmental issues – such as the impacts of clearcuts and four miles of new road on upper elevation streams.

Attorney Jared Margolis represents the town of Craftsbury. He says six weeks is simply not enough time for complicated appeals. 

(Margolis) "The point of having someone intervening in these cases, an appellant, is to ensure that this is being done correctly. That’s the process that we have. And if they don’t have enough time to do that, then you are glossing over some potentially important issues. And I do think it takes away the right of the appellant to participate."

(Dillon)Some environmentalists are leery of the legislation, because they’re concerned that other developers will also demand special treatment.

Yet one group, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, says it makes sense to help GMP meet the deadline for the federal subsides because they would lower the cost of electricity.

But Don Nelson, whose farm sits at the base of Lowell Mountain, is discouraged. He says GMP and its legislative allies have put the project on a fast track.

(Nelson) "As I told one of the guys from Green Mountain Power, ‘You’ve done everything right and there’s nothing we can do to stop you. But doing everything right does not mean it’s really right.’"

(Dillon) Last year, the Legislature took the first step to expedite appeals by taking wind cases away from the Environmental Court and shifting them to the three-member Public Service Board.

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

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