LOWELL -- Non-profit Energize Vermont and neighbors are appealing stormwater permits for the Lowell wind project to the Vermont Supreme Court.
The energy advocacy group is challenging the state utility regulators on the Public Service Board who upheld their own decision approving the stormwater controls at the wind project after the 21 turbines had been operating for half a year.
All appeal documents have been filed with the Vermont Supreme Court, and oral arguments are expected to be scheduled, according to Energize Vermont.
Energize Vermont and some neighbors are challenging whether the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has discretion to permit experimental stormwater treatment protocols even if they fail to comply with the applicable regulations in the Vermont Stormwater Management Manual.
Energize Vermont says the Lowell wind project uses experimental "level spreaders" to manage stormwater runoff from the site rather than stormwater retention ponds.
The challengers say that level spreaders have a history of failing on steep slopes and are not considered standard stormwater treatment protocols.
The engineers who set up the controls have lauded them during tours of the site. The level spreaders allowed Lowell wind owner Green Mountain Power to take up a smaller footprint along the new roads and turbine sites on the mountain for stormwater runoff controls. GMP has stated that meant that a lot less natural woodland and ground was disturbed in the process.
The opponents disagree with the PSB decision to support these kind of stormwater controls.
"It is clear from the PSB's decision that they went through great legal calisthenics to avoid ruling that the use of experimental stormwater treatment protocols does not comply with the existing regulations," stated Lukas Snelling, executive director of Energize Vermont.
"The purpose of the existing regulations is to prevent stormwater runoff from degrading the pristine headwater streams on the mountain. The PSB decided that the agency has 'discretion' to permit the experimental stormwater treatment protocols" even if their use in these conditions is not authorized by the law, Snelling stated.
Energize Vermont stated that GMP said that the current stormwater treatment design does not meet the criteria, but said the agency has discretion to ignore the regulations.
And Energize Vermont said that means that the PSB granted the agency a new ability to go outside existing regulations to permit experimental methods while ignoring their own written stormwater protection standards.
"With the latest PSB decision this case has gone beyond just high-elevation wind projects," Snelling stated.
"Whether these new experimental controls are accepted or not, and whether ANR can wield this new found power, the PSB's decision will impact all types of future development in the state of Vermont.
"Simply put, this case is about upholding our existing standards and not allowing ANR to arbitrarily choose which rules apply to individual situations," Snelling stated.
Neighbor Mike Nelson of Albany has fought the project on behalf of his town and lives nearby. He has joined Energize Vermont in the appeal.
"We remain deeply concerned that the PSB has attempted to make an exception to allow the building of renewable energy at any cost," Nelson stated.
"We all support renewable energy, but it must be built in conformance with the existing standards intended to prevent stormwater pollution of our pristine streams. We cannot trade a wind project for our water quality. Our water is everything -- our wells, our water supply for fire fighting, our high elevation streams, our wetlands, our rivers. We cannot let our water be compromised so Gaz Metro and their cronies can make a buck."
GMP is a private utility, now the largest in Vermont, owned by Quebec company Gaz Metro.
Energize Vermont officials said they welcome other organizations concerned about water quality to weigh in on the case.
The group indicated that Conservation Law Foundation and the Vermont Natural Resources Council would normally be defending Vermont's high elevation water resources, but have not been involved in the issues around wind project permitting.
"It seems some organizations are afraid to get involved in a case like this despite the threat to our water because it brings into question their commitment to industrial wind projects. We hope to see other groups engage and defend Vermont's water in the future regardless of the type of development involved," Snelling stated.
"We must build renewable energy right. The state must not be allowed to keep making exceptions for their pet projects, especially when corporations that have failed to demonstrate a significant interest in being socially responsible and environmentally friendly in our communities are the primary beneficiaries."