MONTPELIER, Vt. — Developers of a plan by a Swanton family for what could become Vermont's latest large-scale wind power project want to ask for state approval before the end of the year in hopes that construction can begin on what would be up to a seven-turbine, 20-megawatt installation before the end of 2016.
Backers of the project known as Swanton Wind — promoted by the Belisle family for a ridge they own northeast of the city of St. Albans — say they want to hear the concerns of neighbors and others so those worries can be addressed.
They are promising to learn the lessons provided by the development and construction of Vermont's existing utility-scale wind projects. And they note the dire predictions about the effects of those projects have not come true, said Martha Staskus of the Waterbury-based Vermont Environmental Research Associates Inc., which has been working with the Belisles on the project.
"All indications are the project is viable, economically and environmentally," said Staskus.
They hope to ask the Vermont Public Service Board to approve the project in the next few months.
"Change is more difficult for some people than others," she said. "We are seeing this whole energy transformation as we shift from fossil fuels to renewables and reducing our carbon footprint and addressing climate change."
Despite what Staskus said has been efforts to address the concerns of neighbors, the Swanton wind proposal is facing opposition from some neighbors and others who are critical of large-scale wind projects in general. Wind project opponents argue they are harmful to the health of people living near them and complain of environmental damage from such ridge-top projects.
"The state has done absolutely nothing to recognize that this type of development causes tremendous harm to the environment and to the health and welfare of people living around the mountains," said Annette Smith of the Danby-based group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who frequently works with people near wind projects, including near the proposed Swanton project.
She also criticized backers for installing a wind test tower on the ridge without proper state permission.
Staskus said the issue was being looked into.
"There was certainly no intent to not follow the law," she said. "As a response the (test) tower is being taken down."
Gov. Peter Shumlin has committed Vermont to achieving the goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 and many feel wind power must play a critical part of that effort along with solar. Vermont has four large-scale wind projects in Lowell, Georgia, Sheffield and Searsburg.
A single project is in the planning stages for hilltops in Searsburg and Readsboro while another in Windham and Grafton is earlier in the planning stages.
Staskus said the final details of the proposed Swanton project would be worked out in the coming weeks.