Wind developer faces legal setback

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(Host) An environmental court judge has dealt a setback to a wind energy developer that wants to build a project in the Northeast Kingdom.

The judge has set a trial for December to hear arguments about whether the project complies with Vermont’s water quality regulations.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Parts of Judge Merideth Wright’s ruling went in favor of First Wind, the company that wants to put the 16 turbines on a ridgeline in Sheffield.

But when the judge focused on how the project will affect the water quality of high elevation streams, she handed the opponents a victory.

Stephanie Kaplan is a lawyer for neighbors who have challenged the project. She says the project involves seven miles of road clearing and heavy construction near the headwaters of fragile mountain streams.

(Kaplan)  "The court agreed with the neighbors that in order to protect the functions and uses of the stream, baseline data on the environmental quality and habitat in the streams has to be provided in order that any degradation from the project will be able to be measured.  Without this baseline data, there’s no way to know whether the streams will be degraded. And the law requires the protection of the streams against degradation."

(Dillon) Matt Kearns is vice president for First Wind in New England. He says that overall the company is pleased with the judge’s ruling.

(Kearns) "We’ve done our homework, the project looks very good on its merits. And as the PSB recognized in its decision, the project stands on its merits with respect to environment and economics and community benefits."

(Dillon) First Wind won approval from the Public Service Board two years ago. But as Judge Wright’s ruling shows, the fight over individual environmental permits continues.

The wind developer’s frustration with Vermont’s permit process spilled over during a recent meeting of the business group, Associated Industries of Vermont. Andrew Perchlik is director of Renewable Energy Vermont, which advocates for large scale wind energy. He said Vermont is a tough place for wind projects, and that the Sheffield project was the first to win approval in Vermont in a decade.

(Perchlik) "And they’re going on five years now. We need a process where projects that have support, that meet the environmental regulations, can actually just move forward and get built."

(Dillon) But Kaplan, the lawyer for the neighbors who oppose the wind development, says the project has a major environmental impact. She says the upcoming trial will focus on whether the project complies with state water quality standards.

(Kaplan) "They’ll present their application; they’ll present all the reasons why they think that denuding 60 acres of high elevation forest land is not going to cause erosion and degradation of the streams. And we are going to be opposing that, and trying to show the court that indeed it’s impossible to do a project like this in such an environment without degrading the water quality."

(Dillon) First Wind says it altered the project design in order to minimize the impact on the environment.

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


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