At the Waitsfield Planning Commission's May 18 hearing concerning a Northfield Ridge industrial wind-power facility, Randy Male of Citizens Energy was asked how such installations affected property values. Mr. Male replied, "Our studies show property values may even increase where wind farms are built." That may be true-some of the time, in some places.
First, it's worth reiterating that, as Mr. Male himself stated, such installations are not "farms." They are industrial installations with footprints (about 25 acres for the Northfield Ridge facility) and terrain disruption comparable to nuclear generators and coal-fired plants. (One million pounds of explosives were required to build a 12-turbine, Lempster, NH, facility. Thousands of truck trips hauled thousands of tons of aggregate and cement for roads and turbine platforms. Locals and visitors who once enjoyed the backcountry there now find locked gates and "No Trespassing" signs.)
This is not to say that industrial facilities are, a priori, bad. They have their places. It is to point out that they are not farms and that they have major environmental impacts.
IMPACT PROPERTY VALUES
They also impact property values. Much available data on the subject is biased for, or against, industrial wind power plants. More reliable data sources do exist here and abroad that have nothing to gain by helping promoters or opponents. Australia, for example, has monitored the impacts of industrial wind facilities for a decade. According to Alan Hives, a land valuer (assessor) with 25 years' experience, industrial wind facilities "have a very large impact on the look of the country, but the change in land value will depend on the site, the situation and the circumstances."
In purely agricultural areas, "the impact on land value had been insignificant."
But - and this is the huge but that Valley select boards, planning commissions, and voters need to remember - the more an area's value is lifestyle-based, the more property is devalued. In coastal Australian areas with high lifestyle qualities, industrial wind power plants reduced property values by up to one-third.
Not all property is created equal. Palm Springs deserts and New Jersey barrens and Australian outback farms will suffer less from industrial power installations than will oceanfront land and Vermont's irreplaceable mountains and valleys. Common sense suggests this and hard data proves it. Rutlanders and Ira residents knew it when they decided against a major industrial wind facility in their area.
A Northfield Ridge industrial power facility could inflict similar devaluation on every property situated on the ridge's western slope, from Roxbury Gap Road all the way to Moretown. Properties down in The Valley, closer to the Mad River, could see similar, if smaller, devaluations. And what of the proximal businesses that depend on the area's natural beauty? Would people be as likely to wed where the dominant viewscape was an industrial power facility, so loud at times that couples might have to shout their vows?
Courts here and abroad are another source of objective information. Mrs. Jane Davis, a 52-year-old retired National Health Service nurse, and her husband lived on a small farm in England's rural Lincolnshire district. In 2006, their property was valued at $240,000. That same year, an industrial wind power facility was built 1,000 yards away.
Having received reassurances from developers, the Davises were supporters: "We did not object to the wind farm in the planning stage as we did not believe that there would be any issues for us, and we believed that wind power was a good way of meeting the energy gap." Two years later, in a landmark case, the Davis's property was declared worthless by the regional tribunal responsible for assessing tax valuations. (Analogous to our Department of Taxes). Part of the ruling:
"It was apparent from the evidence submitted that the construction of the windfarm 930 metres away from the appeal dwellings had had a significant detrimental effect on the Appellants' quiet enjoyment of their properties."
To support their claims, the Davises kept a daily journal for one year, viewable at www.windaction.org/documents/14202. All should read this invaluable document. It is a chilling chronicle of an industrial facility's destructive power when ill-sited. Her entry for July 22, 2007: "Woken at 04.37, ears pulsing, whoosh, throb and house humming. I cried."
As Bob Messner noted last week, industrial wind power is a valuable renewable energy source with positive potential-in the right places. A community whose character and economy are lifestyle-based is not one. Another of Jane Davis' comments makes a good closer: "For people living near wind farms, both now and in the future, it will be a disaster.... This isn't about Nimbyism, but the rights of ordinary people to live a normal life."