State regulators approve large scale wind project

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(Host) A large-scale wind project planned for the Northeast Kingdom has won approval from state utility regulators.

The Vermont Public Service Board says the 16-turbine project will provide environmental and economic benefits to the state and the region.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The wind turbines planned for a ridgeline in Sheffield will generate 40 megawatts – which makes it by far the largest wind energy project ever approved in Vermont.

The scale of the project, the 16 towers and blades will stand about 420 feet high led to opposition from some neighbors.

But the board said the benefits outweigh any downside, including the aesthetic impact of the tall towers.

The project is planned by UPC Wind. Matt Kearns is the company’s director of development.

(Kearns) "We are really pleased that the Public Service Board has chosen to recognize the environmental and economic benefits of wind power to Vermonters. I mean, we’ve been making that case for a long time in a variety of forums, and we’re really pleased the Public Service Board agreed."

(Dillon) The board’s decision on the UPC project comes about a year after it denied approval for a much smaller wind development planned for nearby East Haven. Wind advocates at the time were discouraged.

But Andrew Perchlik, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, says the board decision on the Sheffield project means the future is now much brighter for wind energy in Vermont.

(Perchlik) "I think the wind developers are going to feel good about the prospects of wind in Vermont. It does show Vermont is open for business to the wind industry, and we’re going to see other projects move forward because of this decision."

(Dillon) The Public Service Board did improve conditions on its approval. It required UPC to stay within noise limits. It said the company must take steps to reduce the impact on wildlife and that it must set up a fund to take down the towers when their useful life ends.

The PSB also wants UPC to negotiate stable price contracts with Vermont utilities in order to benefit ratepayers. Under the current arrangement, UPC would sell the power at a price pegged to the open market.

Matt Kearns of UPC wind says he has carefully to study the board’s power sale condition.

(Kearns) "We’re going to have to work closely with our utility partners and the Department of Public Service and get to the finish line."

(Dillon) UPC altered its plans several times in response to public concern. It scaled back the number of turbines and then it cancelled plans to build turbines in Sutton after residents there objected.

But in Sheffield, residents approved wind development in a town-wide vote two years ago.

The company hopes to break ground for the turbines next summer.

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

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