Push For Wind Development Draws More Debate
10/27/11 5:50PM By John Dillon  Download MP3
(Host) The Shumlin Administration says the state should consider lifting a moratorium on wind development on public land.
The recommendation is contained in a draft state energy plan, and it's drawing fire from environmental groups.
VPR's John Dillon has more:
(Dillon) The Green Mountain Club is a 10,000 member organization charged with protecting the Long Trail, a 270 mile footpath that runs up and down the main ridge of the Green Mountains.
Some of the trail is on state land, which the club fought hard to protect. So executive director Will Wiquist is concerned about large-scale wind turbines on public property.
(Wiquist) "This pretty much just says they should consider getting rid of the moratorium, and that's a pretty bold step without any rationale or policy to backstop that."
(Dillon) The club's opposition is another sign of the growing debate over ridgeline wind development.
Wiquist says 400-foot tall turbines near the trail would significantly change the hiking experience.
He says it would be a mistake to end the moratorium without a clear policy explanation and protections for sensitive landscapes.
(Wiquist) "Some of these most sensitive high elevation lands, anything really close to the Long Trail, we really wouldn't want anything developed there. That's sort of the point of the conservation efforts we've been leading for 20 years and really have gotten great support from the state on, including this administration."
(Dillon) The moratorium dates back to 2004, when the administration of Governor Jim Douglas was less receptive to utility-scale wind projects.
Current governor, Peter Shumlin, supports wind energy on Vermont's ridgelines. His Natural Resources Secretary, Deb Markowitz, says development on state land is possible, even with the moratorium. Markowitz says those cases would be very rare, since most state land contains deed restrictions that require the land to be protected.
(Markowitz) "The policy does have a moratorium on large-scale commercial wind development, but it says that the policy can be amended if we can clearly show an overwhelmingly public benefit."
(Dillon) But a key lawmaker who pressed the Douglas Administration to lift the moratorium now has changed his mind.
East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee.
(Klein) "I've kind of done a 360 on that. If we're talking about Agency of Natural Resources lands -which are basically open, natural lands, not developed at all, and they are for the use and benefit of all Vermonters... May be our policy should be no development of any kind."
(Dillon) The Vermont Natural Resources Council, a statewide environmental group, also is opposed to lifting the moratorium.
For VPR News, I'm John Dillon in Montpelier.