Article published Apr 25, 2010 at Times Argus.
A sound policy for wind power in Vt.?
By SANDY WILBUR
Whether they’re called wind farms or industrial wind generating plants, these industrial developments have caused divisiveness and controversy in every community in Vermont where they have been proposed.
Because electricity generation has special legal status for land use regulations, industrial wind projects are being sited in areas where other industrial developments would never be allowed.
And because they’re lucrative investments that are supported by new federal tax benefits, we can expect a gold rush by wind developers into Vermont.
The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee has held multiple hearings on a bill, H.781, that addresses wind developers’ complaints.
Another bill, H.677, would put in place standards and regulations to protect Vermont citizens from adverse impacts (such as noise) that developers deny are problems. That bill has not had a single hearing.
Yet according to “The Brewing Tempest Over Wind Power” (Wall Street Journal, March 1, 2010), “complaints about sleep disruption — as well as the deleterious health effects caused by the pulsing, low-frequency noise emitted by the giant turbines — are a central element of an emerging citizen backlash against the booming global wind industry.”
Hundreds of complaints from wind facility neighbors around the world are being dismissed as baseless or just NIMBY, according to Lawrence Mott of Renewable Energy Vermont.
In Vermont, where industrial wind plants need to be sited on mountain ridgelines, the impacts are significantly greater than on flat land. The linear formation of the turbines combined with the contour of the mountains can magnify sound in unpredictable ways.
In rural areas where background noise is negligible, repetitive sounds can be especially troubling. Environmental impacts to headwaters, wetlands, erosion, wildlife corridors, forest fragmentation and bats, to name a few, are also far greater on ridges.
Vermont, ranked number one in the United States for ecotourism by National Geographic, and U.S. leader in efficiency, has dropped 6 percent in electric use since 2005. Hydro-Quebec provides reasonably priced, renewable, baseload power, as does biomass.
Industrial wind in Vermont won’t replace any fossil fuel plants, nor meaningfully reduce carbon dioxide emissions (the lowest in the country), nor provide significant long-term jobs. So why the push for industrial wind?
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, wants to fast-track industrial wind, move the review of environmental permits from the Environmental Court to the Public Service Board and limit citizen input.
Mott says, “Developers need certainty that their projects will happen.” Yet communities need certainty that noise and other impacts will not prevent citizens from peacefully enjoying their own homes and properties.
According to Mott, developers don’t want to be restricted by regulations such as setbacks that could reduce such problems. The banking industry doesn’t want to be regulated either. But without some protections, citizens have no recourse and developers have no accountability.
If an industrial development is considered “green,” how many people’s well-being can be sacrificed for a “public good”? Since developers can pay a town’s local taxes, shouldn’t they also fairly compensate those in close proximity who bear the brunt of adverse impacts?
In a world of changing climates, disappearing forests and scarce water, Vermont currently has abundant clean water for healthy ecosystems and abundant forests that absorb carbon dioxide. Shouldn’t we be protecting these natural resources — the envy of the rest of the world — for future generations?
Sandy Wilbur of Londonderry is co-founder of Vermont Energy Conservancy.