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Deerfield Wind challenge heard in federal court

The nation’s second-largest wind power operator seeks to be the first to develop a utility-scale wind project on national forest land in the Green Mountain State.

BRATTLEBORO — The nation’s second-largest wind power operator seeks to be the first to develop a utility-scale wind project on national forest land in the Green Mountain State.

Spanish wind giant Iberdrola Renewables defended its project in federal court Wednesday as wind opponents challenged the company’s special use permit to build a 30 megawatt project in the Green Mountain National Forest.

The company in April 2009 received a certificate of public good to build 15 turbines on a ridge that divides Searsburg and Readsboro. It has also received a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service to build on national forest lands.

Geoff Hand, an attorney representing Iberdrola’s Deerfield Wind Project, said the project has been in development for over a decade. He said the project has “important public benefits,” and it will “advance public policy goals” by bringing more renewable energy to Vermont.

But the anti-wind group Vermonters for a Clean Environment sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2012 for allowing the company to build in the national forest. They say the Forest Service violated federal environmental law by not sufficiently studying the impacts of the project.

The group’s... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

BRATTLEBORO — The nation’s second-largest wind power operator seeks to be the first to develop a utility-scale wind project on national forest land in the Green Mountain State.

Spanish wind giant Iberdrola Renewables defended its project in federal court Wednesday as wind opponents challenged the company’s special use permit to build a 30 megawatt project in the Green Mountain National Forest.

The company in April 2009 received a certificate of public good to build 15 turbines on a ridge that divides Searsburg and Readsboro. It has also received a special use permit from the USDA Forest Service to build on national forest lands.

Geoff Hand, an attorney representing Iberdrola’s Deerfield Wind Project, said the project has been in development for over a decade. He said the project has “important public benefits,” and it will “advance public policy goals” by bringing more renewable energy to Vermont.

But the anti-wind group Vermonters for a Clean Environment sued the U.S. Forest Service in 2012 for allowing the company to build in the national forest. They say the Forest Service violated federal environmental law by not sufficiently studying the impacts of the project.

The group’s executive director, Annette Smith said the project would set a “national precedent” permitting development in sensitive ecological areas.

Patrick Bernal, an attorney representing VCE, said the agency’s environmental impacts statement did not consider all the available project alternatives, such as other forms of energy generation and different locations. Instead, he said the agency limited its studies only to projects that were commercially viable.

The Forest Service said it began by looking at 37 possible wind sites in the Green Mountain National Forest. But due to wind resources, the ability to connect the power to the grid and the size of the area needed to make a project commercially feasible, the agency selected the Deerfield Wind site.

“There was a proposal in mind,” said Cynthia Huber, an attorney for the Forest Service. “You start with an idea and then you move from the idea.”

Bernal said the agency did not use recent data on bat populations in the area that could be killed by colliding with the turbines. He said bat populations are already endangered due to the disease white-nose syndrome and that should have been considered in the environmental assessment of a project.

However, the Forest Service said there is little habitat left for bats in the area already and therefore the wind project would not affect bat populations, Huber said.

Bernal said the man who wrote the Forest Service’s study, John Hecklau, at the same time was evaluating the aesthetics of Iberdrola’s wind project in Groton, New Hampshire, which he said was a conflict of interest. The Forest Service replied that Hecklau did not have a direct financial interest in manipulating the study.

Renewable energy use and development is one of the goals established in the 2006 Green Mountain National Forest plan prepared by the USDA Forest Service. This plan includes wind energy development projects.

The federal law aims to preserve the wilderness character of designated areas. One of these areas is the 5,000-acre George D. Aiken Wilderness, located about 1.5 miles to the west of the proposed project site.

Stephen Saltonstall, an attorney representing VCE, said the Forest Service did not sufficiently analyze the noise and aesthetic impacts of the project on the wilderness area.

He said there are more than 520 locations in the wilderness where the proposed turbines could be seen. An attorney for the Forest Service said Green Mountain Power’s operational Searsburg wind farm on the east side of the mountain is already visible from the wilderness area.

The 11 turbines in Searsburg measure 190 feet tall; the Deerfield proposal would erect towers about 400 feet tall.

Saltonstall said the Forest Service also did not adequately model the noise impacts of these turbines. The agency modeled the noise at the eastern border of the wilderness area – which is closest to the project site – and concluded the turbines would increase noise by about 7 decibels, about the same as the noise emitted by a refrigerator, an attorney said.

Between the noise and aesthetic impacts of the turbines, Saltonstall said the areas would lose their wilderness character, which he said would violate the Wilderness Protection Act.

The Forest Service rejected those allegations, claiming that not only does the area’s topography and tree cover minimize the impacts, the Wilderness Protection Act does not set such high aesthetic standards for these areas.

U.S. District Judge Garvan Murtha heard oral arguments Tuesday and his decision is pending.

Iberdrola does not have a buyer for Deerfield Wind’s proposed power output. The company’s CPG states it must sell a “significant portion of the wind farm’s output to Vermont utilities at prices that are favorable relative to market purchases.”


Source: http://vtdigger.org/2014/07...

JUL 23 2014
http://www.windaction.org/posts/40865-deerfield-wind-challenge-heard-in-federal-court
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