First Wind money fails to quiet opposition

In August 2007, First Wind, LLC received approval from the Vermont Public Service Board to erect sixteen 2.5 megawatt wind turbines in Sheffield, Vermont. Residents of Sheffield, neighboring Sutton, and others in the region fought the project from the beginning. And when First Wind was issued a NPDES storm water permit in 2009 from the State, the permit was appealed . The appellants argued that First Wind failed to identify the full extent of the area of disturbance, impacts to streams and stream biota, and violated the VT Water Quality Standards.

In advance of the Environmental Court proceedings, First Wind approached the appellants and others who opposed the project seeking settlement discussions.

A draft agreement was prepared by Kurt Adams1, executive vice president at the company. It allowed for a $500,000 settlement to be paid over 20 years and allocated according to proximity to the project. The expectation was that those living closest to the project would receive more money; those further away would receive less.

Adams explained that the payment represented the "financial component" for sound easements only and that no consideration would be given for other negative effects caused by the turbines. In fact, a clause in the agreement specifically released the company from any and all actions, claims, or suits that might arise due to impacts of the project except those attributable to negligence of First Wind or its affiliates.

Adams also required that the stormwater appeal be dropped.

The parties overwhelming opted not to settle. Aside from problems with the agreement itself, the parties refused to be placed in the position of approving the destruction of Sheffield's mountain tops and felt that by agreeing to the terms they would pave the way for industrial wind development throughout Vermont. It was also important to them that they preserve future options. "None in the group could tolerate the thought of signing the non-disclosure, non-disparagement clause in the proposed agreement, nor did they believe First Wind would be around for 20 years to make good on the payments," one resident told Windaction.org.

Windaction.org has learned that upon hearing no deal, Kurt Adams upped the offer to $2 million. Still no agreement. 

The trial proceeded as scheduled, and good that it did. Expert testimony revealed that the area of disturbance impacted by the project would be 40% greater than First Wind claimed. Is this the reason Adams tried to settle now?

[1] Recent press accounts show that Kurt Adams accepted his job with First Wind prior to leaving his position as Chairman of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. First Wind is the largest developer of wind in the State of Maine with 124 megawatts installed and more proposed. A law suit filed by residents living near First Wind's Mars Hill wind energy facility is still pending.

APR 23 2010
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