Wind energy debate continues at Barton forum

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(Host) Opponents of wind energy development in Vermont are focusing their criticism on the projects’ potential impact on tourism. Ski resort operator Bill Stenger says wind towers on Vermont’s mountaintops could destroy Vermont’s image, and drive tourists away. Proponents counter that there’s no evidence from hundreds of sites around the country that the projects harm the tourism industry.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) With at least five major wind energy projects planned for Vermont’s mountaintops, opponents say they’re worried that the projects will scar the ridgelines and scare away tourists.

At a forum in Barton Thursday night, ski resort operator Bill Stenger said the state’s pristine environment is a fundamental part of what he calls the “Vermont brand.” Stenger, who runs the Jay Peak ski resort, warns that visitors will be disappointed to see wind towers on the mountains.

(Stenger) “The issue of our ridgelines is incredibly important to our brand. I look at the brand of Vermont, and I look at it as the foundation of our economy, not just tourism, but agriculture and health care as well as manufacturing. Every component of our economy in some way or form is linked to our environment and countryside in this unique state.”

(Dillon) Two major projects are planned for the Northeast Kingdom, including a development with four turbines planned for East Haven.

Tom Broderick, a doctor from East Burke, helped form an organization to stop the wind projects. Broderick told the forum that tourists may come to see the towers. But he says they’ll only visit once.

(Broderick) “It’s sort of like seeing a car wreck. You know, it has your curiosity. You don’t want to come back and spend two weeks of vacation under flashing lights that are 330 feet tall. I would tell you that. That’s intuitive.”

(Dillon) But project proponents say you need more than intuition to prove that wind turbines harm tourism. David Rappaport works for the East Haven wind farm, a Montpelier company that wants to put four, 330-foot turbines on East Mountain in Essex County.

Rappaport says hundreds of wind projects have been built in the last decade with no harm to tourism.

(Rappaport) “There’s a lot of wind farms out there. If in fact, if wind farms have an adverse impact on tourism, you’d think they’d be some real evidence of it. And there isn’t. There’s speculation from folks who are concerned because they don’t have experience with large, utility-scale wind turbines about what they’ll look like and what impact they’ll have. But the experience from where wind farms have been built is that they don’t have that impact.”

(Dillon) And some people find the spinning blades of the giant turbines aesthetically pleasing. Chris Robbins is president of EHV Weidmann Industries in Saint Johnsbury. He told the forum that he recently flew over a West Virginia wind project and liked what he saw.

(Robbins) “I thought they were graceful. I thought they were fascinating. I didn’t think they were offensive at all. Maybe that’s me, because I’m an engineer. I thought they were nice. I really didn’t think they were offensive at all.”

(Dillon) Project developers say the power will be one of the cheapest sources of electricity in Vermont. And Robbins says that’s the most attractive part of the proposals.

The businessman supports the four turbine demonstration project planned for East Haven, in part because he’s fed up with the state’s high energy costs. He says he pays twice as much for electricity in Vermont than at four other plants around the country.

(Robbins) “If wind generation power is cheaper, I’m in favor of considering it, and considering it strongly. It’s used all over the world, not just in this country.”

(Dillon) But Bill Stenger from Jay Peak is also concerned about high electricity costs. But he says a better solution would be for Vermont to aggressively pursue power deals with Hydro-Quebec. According to Stenger, the Canadian utility has vast energy resources ready for export.

The wind energy debate will shift to the state Public Service Board next month when the East Haven Windfarm files for approval to construct its project on East Mountain.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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