SEARSBURG- Amid intermittently heard chants of “No more wind!” from protesters excluded from the groundbreaking ceremony for the Deerfield Wind Project on Monday, Gov. Peter Shumlin joined representatives of Avangrid, the parent company of Deerfield Wind LLC, town officials, contractors, and celebrants of the commencement of the construction work for the windmills that will be built on ridgelines on National Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro.
Gov. Shumlin said that there were multiple benefits to Vermont that would accrue from the windmills, and one of the most pressing was abating global warming. “When you see signs like you saw when you came up here, that say ‘ Watch out for the bears’... I love our black bears. And I love our bats. But I don’t discriminate based on color. I like our polar bears, too. And they are drowning because the ice caps are melting faster than the scientists thought they would. If you really believe (in the effects of global warming ) then you better fight for all the bears, and all the bats, and all the human beings who live on this planet, and the way you do it is with renewables.”
Some protesters, including former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Steve Wright, disputed that the project was likely to benefit the goal of curbing global warming. “I am here because this is a reflection of such poor energy policy and poor climate change policy. This development on public land will do nothing but damage the best habitat for black bears in the state, and will do nothing for climate change action. They (Avangrid and Green Mountain Power, which will be buying the power ) can’t advertise themselves as producing renewable energy because they are selling renewable energy credits (RECs) to Massachusetts and Connecticut, so that polluting industries, coal burning industries, can still operate. Coal burning plants can still function because they can meet their permit requirements by buying (RECs).We have choices in Vermont, and we are doing a poor job with those choices currently.”
Green Mountain Power spokesperson Dorothy Schnure disagreed. “It is possible that we will sell RECs for the first few years. But the state of Vermont has mandated that 55% of our power has to be renewable by next year, and we are going to meet or exceed that goal. There are mandates that amount will increase in the years ahead. The energy that Deerfield Wind will provide will allow us to meet those mandated levels of renewable energy.” “Our energy goal is 90% renewable by 2050,” said Gov. Shumlin. “We have 11 times the solar that we had when I took office, and 22 times the amount of wind power than we had when I took office. We have to do a lot more of this, not a lot less. We have created an extraordinary mess by burning oil and coal with irrational exuberance. It’s now our responsibility to do everything we can now, and to move quickly.”
Shumlin also said that the push for renewable energy had brought many jobs to Vermont, and young workers, too. He said that renewable energy projects in Vermont had helped keep energy costs down. “Today Vermont has lower electric rates than every state that borders us.” Shumlin said that rates in these other states had gone up by as much as 100% two years ago. “That hurts folks who are struggling to pay their bills, it hurts jobs, and it hurts the economy.” he said. Rebecca Stone, who was representing the town of Readsboro, said that family members in Massachusetts had seen their monthly bills quadruple, and that the project was likely to benefit the area’s retail economy as well.
Some of the protestors had traveled from near the Canadian border. Others were from the Deerfield Valley. Meg Streeter, a resident, real estate agent, and former selectboard member of Wilmington, said she was concerned the windmill towers would dominate the landscape. “We fought this a long time, for years. We felt our strongest point was the impact that those towers will have on property value. Another real point for me is that it is not appropriate for private energy production to be done on public land in the National Forest.”
According to Timothy Seck, Avangrid Renewable’s managing director, the project would result in more than $6.8 million in taxes being paid to the towns of Readsboro and Searsburg and more than $6 million paid to Vermont’s general education fund over the life of the project. He also said that $1 million was being spent on black bear habitat conservation and studies of bears that would be affected by the cutting of trees. Seck said the lengthy permitting process, which took close to 12 years, resulted in features that were unique for the company. For example, he said, the current plan, pending approval of the FAA, is to equip the windmills with radar-activated lights. “The lights will come on when a plane is in the area,” he said. Forest Supervisor of the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest John Sinclair said this will benefit birds, who are more likely to fly into windmills that are lighted. He said that though permits had been granted, if unforeseen problems were to arise, work could be stopped. “We don’t anticipate any problems, but we do have that authority.”
Sinclair said he did not believe that the permitting of this project would set any legal precedent for other industrial uses in the national forests. “I understand that might be the general perception that is out there, that this could set a precedent, but that is not the case. The process is very site-specific. Something that might be permitted in one part of the forest might never be acceptable in another part.