State, GMP Reach Deal For Protecting Bear Habitat In Lowell

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(Host) The state of Vermont and Green Mountain Power have struck a deal that removes a major obstacle to the utility’s Lowell Mountain wind project.

The agreement calls for protecting wildlife habitat that would be affected by the roads and development on the ridgeline.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Just this week, a biologist for the Agency of Natural Resources testified that the Lowell project would damage and fragment wildlife habitat used by bears and song birds.

The agency’s objections had the potential to derail the state’s largest wind development proposal now under review at the Public Service Board.

But now Green Mountain Power has promised to conserve more land away from the project to compensate for the impact on wildlife.

(Shumlin) "The agency has come to an agreement with Green Mountain Power on all the outstanding issues surrounding that application. And they will be providing a united front to the Public Service Board."

(Dillon) The settlement was announced by Governor Peter Shumlin at a hastily convened news conference. Shumlin said he’s a booster of the Lowell development.

(Shumlin) "This is an example of the kind of project that Vermont should be building in our road to energy independence, creating jobs and having a predictable and affordable power future."

(Dillon) GMP wants to build up to 21 turbines on the Lowell Mountain ridgeline. The project entails construction of a four mile long road along the ridge to accommodate the large cranes needed to erect the structures. The mountain would also have to be leveled in spots for road and the turbine pads.

A state biologist had testified that in some areas the construction road would be as wide as the Interstate. He said unless additional land was protected, the state would oppose the project.

GMP was clearly worried about the issues the state had raised. Here’s President Mary Powell.

(Powell) "Candidly, we were very concerned about the fact that we hadn’t seemed to get across the finish line in terms of meeting the environmental standards and guidelines and desires of the staff within the Agency of Natural Resources."

(Dillon) Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Deb Markowitz said GMP has now agreed to permanently conserve 290 acres and protect another 290 acres for the life of the project.

(Markowitz) "So it’s significant considering that it’s about between 20 to 21 acres that’s been directly affected by the project. So that’s a very good mitigation plan."

(Dillon) The details of the deal between the state and GMP still have to be worked out. Markowitz said the settlement will be filed with the Public Service Board. Hearings on the project will resume later this month.

GMP wants the wind development up and running by the end of 2012 in order to take advantage of federal tax credits.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier

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