Large Wind Project Proposed For Lowell Stirs Strong Emotions
11/06/09 5:50PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) A proposal for a large-scale wind energy project is bringing out strong emotions in the Northeast Kingdom.
At a public meeting this week, residents worried about the potential noise from the turbines, and the impact on tourism and property values.
VPR's John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The project - 16 to 24 turbines on Lowell Mountain - would be a windfall for town taxpayers. Developers have promised to pay Lowell up to $535,000 a year - or about a third of the town's entire tax burden.
But some of the 200 residents who packed the Lowell Graded School were more concerned about environmental impacts, and the potential harm to property values.
John Matthews from nearby Albany stared hard at a computer generated illustration that showed the 300- to 400-foot turbines as small, pinwheel-sized propellers on the ridgeline.
(Matthews) "I tell you those towers in that picture are grossly smaller than those towers actually will be. You're bribing this town with money so that we can look at towers in Albany and Craftsbury! There's a tourist industry in this state that's dying. Millions of dollars are being invested in more rooms where nobody is staying, in them and you want to put another hundred million or so in more towers and no jobs for it." (Applause)
(Dillon) Green Mountain Power is the lead developer of the Lowell project. The company plans to sell some of the electricity to Vermont Electric Cooperative, the utility that serves many of the towns in the area.
GMP President Mary Powell said the wind development would produce up to 60 megawatts of locally produced, renewable energy. She said the utility would walk away if Lowell residents vote against it at March town meeting.
(Powell) "It truly is important that we work very closely with the community and we've made it clear from the start of this project that if the town of Lowell doesn't want us here, we won't be here."
(Dillon) GMP is running a political campaign of sorts before the March vote. Company officials have talked to with town leaders and have met one-one-one with residents in their living rooms.
GMP also produced a panel of consultants to talk about the project's economic and environmental impact. One of the consultants said a recent study found wind projects did not lower property values.
But that drew a skeptical response from Dan MacLure who's run an Orleans County real estate business for 25 years. MacLure said he's been trying to sell a farm near the project.
(MacLure) "And I've shown it many times. And the minute I tell people, by the way there's a wind farm coming up on this ridge, I escort them down the hill and they're gone."
(Dillon) The Lowell project is planned for about three miles of undeveloped ridgeline. Access roads would be built and land cleared for the turbines.
But Ted Fleisher of Lowell said other sources of generating electricity have longer lasting environmental impacts. Fleisher said he used to live in Pennsylvania where the hillsides were strip mined for coal.
(Fleisher) "People are living there, but there's nothing growing. Honestly, there is a red hillside of rock. Had I to choose between some windmills, albeit they are large, 747 sized, and the entire side of the mountain strip mined to create some energy, hands down I would chose that." (Applause)
(Dillon) If the town approves the project, GMP hopes to begin the permit process next spring, and start construction in 2012.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Lowell.