PSB Approves Lowell Wind Project

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(Host) The Public Service Board has approved Green Mountain Power’s proposal for a 63 megawatt wind project on Lowell Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom.

As VPR’s John Dillon reports, the project would be the largest wind energy development in the state.

(Dillon) GMP wants to build 21 turbines, each over 400 feet tall, along three miles of the Lowell Mountain ridgeline. The Public Service Board gave its strong support to the proposal. The board said the turbines would reduce greenhouse gas emissions and would help Vermont meet its renewable energy goals.

The board said other sources of electricity could be less expensive, but it found that the wind project would provide customers with long-term, stably priced, renewable power. GMP President Mary Powell was delighted with that conclusion.

(Powell) "I think really what was so compelling certainly to us as we started to look at this project, and certainly came through in the board’s order, is that this is incredibly cost-effective for premium renewable energy, which is consistent with the state’s renewable energy goals."

(Dillon) The approval came just over a year after GMP filed its massive application with the PSB.

The company faces a tight deadline, because it needs to have the turbines up and running by the end of next year in order to qualify for federal tax credits. Powell said construction will start in August.

(Powell) "We will have the project on line by probably the third or fourth quarter of 2012."

(Dillon) The wind project was supported by a vote in the town of Lowell, but it faced strong opposition from some in neighboring communities. They questioned whether the project was worth the environmental cost of building wide access roads and disturbing wildlife habitat high on a mountain ridgeline.

Steve Wright is a former state fish and wildlife commissioner who lives in nearby Craftsbury.

(Wright) "It is abhorrent to me to think that state government would be advocating blowing up portions of the Green Mountains. And when I say blowing up, that’s what I mean. That’s actually what will happen. In this, particularly, there will be a road that in some places is as wide as Interstate 91, on top of the mountain."

(Dillon) Opponents vowed to continue to fight, and they questioned how GMP could start work later this summer when many permits were likely to be appealed. Annette Smith is executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

(Smith) "There are still outstanding Agency of Natural Resources permits. They need a wetlands CUD; they need a stormwater operation and construction permit. Those are appeal-able to the Public Service Board and those are appeal-able to the Vermont Supreme Court. So I really wonder what it is they’re thinking by saying they’re going to start in August."

(Dillon) The PSB rejected many of the environmental arguments. It said that any energy development of this size has environmental impacts, but it said on balance the project served the public good.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier

VPR Special Series: Vermont’s Wind Energy Future

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