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The Future of Energy: Wind Power

04/07/10 7:55AM By Bill Jaspersohn
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(HOST) This week, VPR's commentators are weighing in on the future of energy. Plans for a new wind farm in Vermont - if constructed, the first since the one built in Searsburg in 1996 - have commentator Bill Jaspersohn wondering about the role of wind in Vermont's energy future.

(JASPERSOHN) Lately I've been thinking about wind turbines.

I'm not alone. Since the citizens of Lowell voted three-to-one at their Town Meeting in March to allow upwards of 24 wind turbines to be erected along a three mile stretch of ridgeline near Lowell Mountain, people in nearby towns have been pondering whether wind turbines in their backyards - or anywhere in Vermont - are a good thing or a bad thing.

As is often the case, the answer is more complex than a simple yes or no.

For the town of Lowell it looks like a good thing. Green Mountain Power will pay Lowell four to five hundred thousand dollars annually - not bad for a town whose annual budget runs about $420,000. The wind farm itself will generate up to 63 megawatts of power, enough to power some 20,000 homes.

Bravo, say wind power proponents. A victory for sustainable energy. True, they concede, the manufacture and installation of wind turbines is not a carbon-neutral exercise. But once the turbines are up and running the energy they produce is clean. No greenhouse gases. No pollutants of any kind.

Proponents also acknowledge that in other parts of the U.S.- notably Altamont Pass in California and areas of West Virginia and Pennsylvania - bird kills and bat kills have been an issue with wind turbines. But, they say - and studies bear them out, the issue is a site-specific one. The key is to pretest the site. Pesticides, cars, buildings - even the family cat - kill more birds per year on average than a wind turbine.

Not so fast, say opponents to the Lowell project. Those 24 towers are going to be big - nearly four hundred feet tall. They'll dominate that ridgeline, and we'll have to look at them 24-7. If states like Pennsylvania and New York can build wind farms on lower, wider, more open tracts of land, why can't Vermont?

Answer: that's not where the wind is. Go online, Google "Vermont wind map," and you'll see - no surprise - that the best winds blow across the very spine of the Green Mountains.

And there's the rub. Do we as Vermonters want to allocate one of our state's prize natural resources - its mountains - for wind energy? And, if we do, how much? And where?
It boils down to a question of aesthetics and how much of wind energy's presence we can tolerate.

But while pondering that question, it's also worth pondering these: Are ski resorts an ugly sight to you? Are telephone poles? Transmission lines? Box stores? Parking lots? Rows of condominiums on old pastureland?

Is electrical power whose source is far away and out of sight somehow more palatable than electrical power whose source we can see every day?

Currently, about a dozen wind initiatives are being planned throughout the state. The Public Service Board says Vermont needs better guidelines for developing wind farms. Amen to that. My 22-year-old niece thinks wind turbines are beautiful. Her 82-year-old grandfather thinks they're abominable. What do you think? It's starting to matter.

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Commentary series: The Future of Energy
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