VPIRG and REV have implied that the proposed rule will be the end of wind power in Vermont. In particular, VPIRG undertook a GIS study that showed that 0.2% of Vermont would be available for wind facilities due to the setbacks in the proposed rule. There are two problems with VPIRG’s analysis: its premise is wrong and the conclusion does not follow from its data.
VPIRG’s premise that no turbine can be sited within a distance equal to 10 times turbine height of a home is wrong for two reasons. One reason is that VPIRG failed to take into account the fact that the criterion does not apply to participating neighbors. Participating neighbors could greatly expand the available land. The second reason the premise is wrong is that VPIRG assumed that projects have to utilize very large turbines. Smaller, but still industrial scale wind turbines, have a smaller setback VPIRG did not consider. Consequently, VPIRG did not “model” the proposed rule. Much more land than 0.2% of Vermont is available for wind development under the proposed rule.
The most important flaw in VPIRG’s analysis is that its conclusion (the end of wind power) does not follow from its data. Even if one were to assume that VPIRG’s calculations are correct, and that “only 0.2% of Vermont land is available for wind power in Vermont, an assumption that is clearly wrong because of problems described above, that land is more than enough land to increase wind power in Vermont by an order of magnitude.
VPIRG never really argued that 0.2% of the land is not enough to permit wind turbine development in the future. VPIRG merely relied on the small value (0.2%) to appear insufficient for future turbine development. What they didn’t tell the Board is that 0.2% of land at the scale of a state is still quite a lot of land. In Vermont’s case, it is 19.232 square miles (According to the US Census, there are 9,616 square miles of land in Vermont).
Moreover, it is critical to remember this land is the land available for the footprint of the turbines, as the setback would be measured from the turbines. The footprint of the turbines at the existing facilities is actually quite small. GIS software was used to calculate the footprint of the Sheffield, Lowell, and Georgia Mountain Projects and is given below:
- Sheffield=0.537 square miles
- Lowell=0.122 square miles
- Georgia Mountain=0.021 square miles
The 19.232 square miles is enough land for 36 Sheffields, 158 Lowells, or 916 Georgia Mountains.
Obviously, new developments will have different turbine footprints. But VPIRG’s implied argument that 0.2% of the land (even if the 0.2% value were correct) does not support their conclusion that the Proposed Rule will end wind power in Vermont.
The Board should remember that the land available for turbine development under the proposed rule is actually much greater than 0.2% of Vermont, because participating neighbors are exempt from the setback requirements and smaller turbines have a smaller setback than VPIRG assumed. Nevertheless, even if only 0.2% of the land were available, wind energy development isn’t dead. Development can still occur. Under the new rule it will simply occur in areas where it is a better fit.
Finally, I think the proposed rule allows for a better fit, not an appropriate fit. I am not suggesting that the proposed rule is sufficiently protective. Its greatest flaw, as I have pointed out before, is that the setback is not from adjacent property lines. Had the proposed rule, even with this flaw, been in place before the Sheffield, Lowell, and Georgia Mountain projects, however, it would have resulted in improvements to those projects that likely would have avoided many of the noise issues and the bad press that has accompanied them. It would have avoided making wind power unattractive to some other prospective communities. The Proposed Rule would have been better for the neighbors and for wind power’s future in Vermont. Ironically, it is previous siting problems, which this rule would have partially corrected, that have caused the most damage to the prospects for wind power in Vermont.
Paul Brouha’s home is a farm in Sutton that is adjacent to, and about a mile downwind (southeast) of the Sheffield Wind Plant. He lives near 16 turbines. His parents brought him to the farm when he was born 71 years ago.