SWANTON — For more than four hours Thursday night, opponents of Swanton Wind got a chance to question the team behind the project.
The Public Service Board hosted an information workshop in the Swanton Village Municipal Complex designed so the public could garner information to be used in deciding whether to become a formal participant in the Public Service Board’s review process. But the several hours of questioning often veered into cross-examination, with the public no more satisfied with the answers than the Swanton Wind team with the questions.
An exchange three hours into the proceedings summarized that divide. Swanton resident Danielle Garrant said one of Green Mountain Power’s transmission lines runs 100 feet from her house. Garrant asked if the lines would now be transporting more power. Vermont Environmental Research Associates (VERA)’s Martha Staskus, who coordinated the project science team’s responses, said yes, there would be an increase. How much of an increase, she was not sure — Swanton Wind’s output has yet to be determined.
In fact, many aspects of the project are yet to be determined. The Swanton Wind team said these uncertainties are common in any largescale building project, especially large-scale wind — because industrial wind technology is so rapidly developing, it makes the most financial sense to wait until the last minute before deciding on, and purchasing, that equipment. But those uncertainties alarmed many members of the public who spoke last night.
Garrant said, “My question for you is: Is it worth it?”
Swanton Wind’s legal representative, attorney Leslie A. Cadwell, seemed uncertain how to respond. Cadwell said many of the evening’s questions were too general for any specific answer, specific answers being, ostensibly, the workshop’s point.
Garrant repeated, “Is it worth it?”
John Cotter, the Public Service Board staff attorney who served as the workshop’s moderator, picked up the slack. “That’s the significant question,” he said. “Obviously they think it is.”
Cadwell repeated that the Swanton Wind team does not believe the project’s construction would cause “any undue adverse affect.” The team must prove such in the process of its application for a Certificate of Public Good from the Public Service Board. That certificate would permit the project’s construction. Cadwell noted that Swanton Wind would need to provide the Public Service Board with the final specifics of the project before construction even if those details are worked out after the project has its certificate.
Nearly 100 locals filled folding chairs and lined the walls around the room, while a dozen representatives of the Swanton Wind project sat at tables against the wall, including Travis and Ashley Belisle, the project’s developers and residents of the proposed construction site. Travis spoke only to confirm statements directed at him by property owners with whom he is familiar, like Mark Dubie, whose sugaring business borders the project’s proposed site.
“Two of these turbines are less than 100 feet from my property,” Dubie said. “Me and my team, we’re going to be working there, hours and hours at a time.”
Dubie said the sound level near that close to the turbine is projected to be 55 decibels (dB), which he compared to the sound of a chainsaw. Ken Kaliski, who performed the project’s sound study, said 55 dB was the volume of his voice speaking at slightly above normal volume in the Village Complex.
Still, Dubie said, “My business is going to be affected. Why should I be affected by noise?”
Dubie suggested moving the two turbines in question “down the hill a little bit.” Cadwell said the project would not change the proposed location of its turbines.
The number of turbines the project may contain has not been finalized. The project’s Public Service Board application states “up to seven.” Those turbines’ output has not been finalized either — per the application, it could be “up to 20 megawatts.” Members of the public questioned why the power was necessary if it might not be used in-state — Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has shown a preliminary interest in purchasing the project’s output to meet Connecticut’s energy goals. But VERA President John Zimmerman said discussions with Vermont electric purchasers are ongoing, and that the Belisles would prefer to keep the power in-state.
But if the power is sold out of state, project representatives said, it is still necessary to meet federal energy requirements per the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act, PURPA, passed in 1978, designed to reduce energy demand and increase domestic and renewable energy supply.
St. Albans resident Joe Fitzsimmons asked how many of the workshop’s attendees had been within 100 yards of the Georgia Mountain Community Wind project, which was often referenced at the beginning of the workshop, before Cotter reminded the public that the the scope of conversation was specifically limited to Swanton Wind. In response to Fitszimmons question, about half the audience raised their hands.
“I’ve built up there,” he said. “I’ve built for people that live up there. The deer are there. There is nothing that isn’t there anymore, disappeared because they put in roads and did work... Everyone’s worried about the noise and everything. Not even half the people have gone up there and listened to it. They see big things [are] going to go up and they get all worried about it, like it’s going to be something bad.”
Fitzsimmons’ attitude was unique. When Cotter respectfully asked Fairfield resident Sally Collopy not to cross-examine Swanton Wind’s representatives, Collopy said she was frustrated after two years of unanswered questions. Cotter noted there would be a public hearing on Swanton Wind as part of the board’s review process, the time for public comment, and that if Collopy were a formal participant in the board’s review process — she is — she could cross-examine Swanton Wind’s witnesses when the process’s discovery portion begins, the next step in the process.
Cadwell said Collopy could submit questions directly to her communities’ legal representative, in this case attorney Ed Adrian, representing the towns of Swanton and Fairfield. Adrian clarified that those questions actually must be submitted to each town’s selectboard, but that any and all questions then forwarded to him must be answered under oath.
Town of Swanton Selectboard Chair Joel Clark asked what the project’s annual contribution to the Town of Swanton would be. Swanton Wind initially projected an annual contribution of $150,000. Staskus said that projection was based on similar projects, and was “a starting point for a conversation.”
Rep. Dan Connor, D-Fairfield, asked what would be contributed to the Town of Fairfield. Nothing, because Fairfield will not host the project’s infrastructure.
The public were not the only ones frustrated. When Collopy shook her head while Staskus responded to a question about fire safety, Staskus stopped mid-sentence. “Why do you shake your head? That’s really rude.” Collopy, embarrassed: “Sorry.” Those who want to participate in the Public Service Board process must submit a motion to intervene by Feb. 16.