In 2009, when I was serving as lieutenant governor, I was invited to the Bolton Valley Ski Area resort to take part in the commissioning of a 100 kw wind turbine manufactured by Vermont workers in Barre. Its blade height was a very modest 120 feet, and the tower was on a scale to fit in with the ski resort profile. Bolton became only the second ski resort in the country to be powered in part by renewable wind electricity.
In the same year I was asked to assist a proposed project on Georgia Mountain, which I did. This was before Lowell and Sheffield were built. In the same year, I was invited to visit the little mountain town of Ira, in Rutland County. Citizens there were very concerned about the proposed wind power development on their ridges. Unlike the 120-foot tower at Bolton, the proposed Ira project had towers that would overshadow the homes of local residents. As the towers grew ever larger, to catch more wind, my attitude toward wind towers began to change.
The current generation of wind turbines has ground-to-tip heights of 500 feet. Under certain wind conditions they can be very noisy, especially if you live downwind from the turbine. The trend is more turbines per site, so the effect is multiplied, especially when there is turbulence along the row of turbines.
After these industrial wind projects were built in places like Sheffield, Lowell and Georgia, I have listened firsthand to Vermonters whose lives have been affected by having to live in the shadow of blades that now reach as high as five times the height of the typical Vermont forest canopy. We are talking “War of the Worlds” huge.
Many people report health related issues that they attribute to the industrial sized turbines that were built near their homes. Some say they cannot sleep at night in their homes because of the noise these huge turbines produce. I have talked to people who have been forced to move out of their bedrooms into other rooms or out of their homes altogether due to noise from the turbines.
Our laws have recognized, for centuries, that property owners have the right to make peaceful use of their land — so long as such use does not cause spillover effects that harm their neighbors. In my view, no one should have to move out of his or her home because a neighboring landowner chooses to build an industrial wind project.
There is more to the wind tower issue than aesthetics or harmful spillover effects on nearby residents. These towers bring harmful environmental effects as well.
An industrial size turbine requires as much as three acres of impervious pads, like paved parking lots. They require interstate-sized roads to the ridge lines to transport these industrial-sized machines onto our mountain tops. The roads and pads on mountain tops will cause serious erosion and will degrade water quality in our rivers and lakes. There will also be harmful effects on wildlife.
It is also upsetting to local people when an industrial wind project developer with big profit expectations rolls into a town. Such developers have big money, bring a large bagful of federal subsidies, and enjoy a state mandate requiring the utilities to purchase their power at above the market price. They hire lawyers, experts and PR consultants who know the Public Service Board process and can run over a town or a community.
Last May, a bipartisan group of senators tried to amend the Renewable Energy Standard bill (now Act 56) to require the Public Service Board to give “substantial deference” to local land-use plans relating to large-scale wind project applications before the board. The Senate voted 10-19 to reject this amendment. As a result, towns can give input to the Public Service Board, but the decision-making power lies with three unelected people appointed by the governor. There is no local control for industrial wind or energy project siting.
For all of these reasons, I have become firmly committed to sharply increasing the power of local municipalities to regulate — or even prohibit — industrial wind projects when the town determines that the negative impact of industrial wind turbines far outweighs the supposed benefits.
Renewable energy, for the most part, is a good thing. I support net metering for home-scaled wind and solar, fish-friendly small scale hydro, and mining landfills and bio digesters for methane. But at some point the rush into large scale (and subsidized) renewable energy becomes too costly, and too destructive of human and environmental values, to merit continued support. We have reached that point with Big Wind, and it’s time to slow this rush to “renewable energy of all kinds at whatever cost.”
I ask our legislators to support a moratorium on new wind projects until they can answer how well our existing projects have lived up to their developers’ promises, how have they impacted the environment, and how they have affected their neighbors and communities. A hiatus in development would also give us a chance to develop real siting standards, find meaningful ways for our cities and towns to participate, and study the regulatory processes of governments (like Denmark’s) that do a better job than we do in Vermont.
Brian Dubie, of Fairfield, served as Vermont’s lieutenant governor from 2003 to 2011.