Wind farm loses key backer

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(Host) A proposal for a wind farm in Manchester has lost a key player. Catamount Energy, a Central Vermont Public Service subsidiary and a partner in the project, has decided to withdraw.

VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) The proposal to build five 330-foot wind turbines on Little Equinox Mountain has been on the table for over a year. The partners behind the project were Endless Energy, a small company from Yarmouth Maine, and Catamount Energy, a subsidiary of Vermont’s largest utility.

Now Catamount says it’s pulling out. Bob Charlebois is Catamount’s Managing Director. He says the nine-megawatt project is too small, and economically too marginal, for his publicly traded company.

(Charlebois) “It takes as much effort to develop a large project as it does to develop a small project. And the larger projects have the opportunity to accrue more benefits to the company and to the shareholder. So by definition it simply makes sense to pursue those larger opportunities.”

(Keese) Charlebois says Catamount is moving forward with a 50-megawatt wind energy proposal in Londonderry.

The Manchester project has attracted opposition and support. A coalition of environmental groups, led by the Conservation Law Foundation, came out in favor of it last fall. The City of Burlington has agreed to purchase any power the wind farm generates. Opposition has been strongest in Manchester’s historic village. Opponents fear the lighted towers will spoil the mountain landscape that attracts visitors to the village.

Charlebois says the opposition isn’t the reason Catamount has abandoned the project. But he says problems with a local landowner over a transmission line right of way have made the economics more difficult.

(Charlebois) “Uh. It certainly wasn’t helpful.”

(Keese) Meanwhile Endless Energy, the remaining partner, plans to continue the project. Harley Lee is the company president.

(Lee) “It’s really not that big a setback. We have another project under development and we have other sources of capital, so it’s really not that big a setback.”

(Keese) Endless energy holds a 25-year lease on the Little Equinox property. The mountain was the site of two, much smaller windmill experiments in the 1980s. Lee says the fact that the site already has an access road and other infrastructure will help make the project economically, as well as environmentally worthwhile.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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