State will not oppose wind project

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(Host) The state of Vermont has changed its mind and now says it will not oppose a major wind energy project planned for the Northeast Kingdom.

But the state Department of Public Service says it still has concerns about large-scale wind development.

Officials say they are withholding final judgment on the Northeast Kingdom project until they evaluate the power supply deal the developer offers.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Last summer, the Department of Public Service came out against a wind project planned for the towns of Sheffield and Sutton.

The company, UPC Wind, wanted to erect 26 turbines. And the state said a project of that scale could harm the orderly development of the region.

But UPC has since eliminated 10 turbines from its proposal. And the state has substantially softened its criticism.

David O’Brien is commissioner of the Public Service.

(O’Brien) “There are some details and some significant details that have to be worked out. But at the end of the day, we could not simply oppose the project based on the body of evidence that we were working from.”

(Dillon) The Public Service Board will ultimately decide if UPC gets approval. The Department of Public Service represents ratepayers in the case.

(Obrien) “This project was dramatically altered by the petitioner, changing the scope and the impact and certainly the scale of the project, both in terms of aesthetics and other considerations. And perhaps this is something that when the evidence is before the board they would approve it, perhaps not.”

(Dillon) The state’s change of mind was good news for UPC wind. Spokesman Erik Filkhorn says the developers tried to adjust the project to reflect the concerns of local residents.

(Filkhorn) “I think there’s been a lot of doubt out there in the process. And what the testimony indicates today is that wind is possible in Vermont.”

(Dillon) But UPC still faces some hurdles. O’Brien, the Public Service Commissioner, says he wants to see more details of how UPC will sell its power. He says he’d like to see long-term, stable power contracts with local utilities.

(Obrien) “We haven’t seen evidence yet that those sort of arrangements have been made with our utilities. From our perspective, if we’re going to see development of this sort of scale in Vermont, at an absolute minimum we need to see the benefits of that kind of power flowing to Vermont consumers.”

(Dillon) The Agency of Natural Resources also filed testimony on the project’s impacts on wildlife. Agency officials said the developer’s studies appear to show the project will not hurt migrating bats. However, the agency raised concerns about bear habitat in the area.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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