State regulators have approved wind testing towers in southern Vermont, despite opposition from the host towns.
The decision comes during an intensifying debate over renewable energy projects in Vermont.
A utility in northern Vermont wants a two-year moratorium on any new renewable mandates.
Iberdrola Renewables is one of the largest wind developers in the world. It’s got about 40 renewable projects in the U-S and is eyeing a ridgeline in southern Vermont for a development that could include 15 to 40 turbines.
Company spokesman Paul Copleman was pleased that the state Public Service Board recently granted permission to erect three, 200 foot tall testing towers in Windham and Grafton. Copleman says the equipment will measure the wind potential there.
"This is the first step towards assessing the viability of a project but it by no means guarantees that we are moving forward with plans to develop a project. At this point we have very little knowledge about the wind itself," he said.
The Public Service Board’s decision to allow the testing equipment disappointed officials in Windham. The town plan prohibits large-scale commercial wind projects, although it does allow the test towers.
Two of the towers are planned for Windham, the third would be in Grafton. Liisa Kissel is a Grafton resident who opposes the project. She says the wind turbines don’t pass the cost-benefit test.
"We feel this takes away more from us regionally and even statewide more than it gives us," she said. "This is very expensive, financed by taxpayer money and ratepayer money, gives us very little, inconsistent energy in return, and on the other side destroys the natural environment."
Kissel supports a moratorium on wind projects – an effort that first started with Northeast Kingdom lawmakers. And last week, the Vermont Electric Cooperative board called on the Legislature to impose a two year time out on future mandates that would require utilities to buy renewable electricity.
Co-op CEO Dave Hallquist also questions whether the state’s electric grid can absorb much more intermittent, renewable generation.
Hallquist says the goal of the resolution is to prompt a broader, statewide discussion about how to cut greenhouse gas pollution in Vermont. He says the state’s electricity sector is not necessarily the place to focus.
"If you look at the total carbon footprint of Vermont, 4 percent is electricity," Hallquist said. "And we’re spending a lot of energy on this area, and a lot of emotional energy. And yet if look at transportation being 47 percent of the carbon footprint, and 32 percent coming heating and cooling, we don’t seem to be spending a lot of energy there."
But Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, says the moratorium doesn’t make sense.
"The logic of the argument fails when you begin to look at what you would do to try to reduce the carbon emissions from the transportation sector," Burns said. "One of the easiest things that is nearest to us on the radar in a place like Vermont is to create a capacity for electric vehicles which would be clearly better from a carbon standpoint as long as you’re getting your electricity from cleaner local renewable sources."
Governor Peter Shumlin is also skeptical about a moratorium. He says the world faces a climate that’s changing faster than scientists had predicted just a few years ago. So Shumlin says the state needs to build more renewable energy projects.