Swanton residents lead charge
Saint Albans Messenger July 15, 2015
Rocky Ridge Road, located off of Route 105 near the Swanton and St. Albans Town boundary line, is the proposed site of a seven turbine wind farm. MATT PREEDOM photo
ST. ALBANS TOWN — St. Albans Town Selectboard members were interested Monday night to learn of a potential wind farm planned for Rocky Ridge Road in Swanton near the St. Albans Town line.
In addition to surprise, selectboard members expressed frustration with the Public Service Board process and the lack of input municipalities and residents have on renewable energy projects.
Swanton residents Christine and Dustin Lang came to the session to warn the selectboard of this newly proposed project, which could affect a number of nearby municipalities including St. Albans Town.
“They’re proposing up to seven windmills,” said Christine Lang. The developer of the nine-lot subdivision on Rocky Ridge Road, Travis Belisle, has plans to transform the ridge above Route 105 into a potential source of 20 megawatts of electricity, which could power up to 7,800 homes.
According Swanton land records, Belisle had all the homeowners in the subdivision – which was built in 2011 and 2012 – sign a declaration acknowledging that there could be further development on the land, including a wind farm.
As reported in the July 11 Messenger, the project was discussed at last week’s Swanton Selectboard meeting), where Belisle and Martha Staskus of Vermont Environmental Associate Renewables explained logistics and their plans.
Residents of Rocky Ridge Road – including the Langs – expressed their concerns at that meeting. “We asked how close they were going to be to houses,” said Lang. “They said 1,200 feet, which is pretty close.”
She added that the turbines would be taller than those on Georgia Mountain, or about 500 feet from ground to the tip of the vertical blade.
Dustin Lang said that the Swanton Selectboard was informed of the project in March, but that Belisle has not filed an application with the Public Service Board yet, though plans to do so at the end of the summer. It was apparent Monday night that adjacent municipalities had not been told of the project.
“This is the first I’ve ever heard of this,” said St. Albans Town Selectboard Chair Brent Palmer. Selectboard member Sam Smith also said he hadn’t known about the project until then.
Christine Lang said the biggest concern for St. Albans Town was property values declining due to the sound the turbines make. “They have reduced the property values of houses in Georgia. That’s where you guys are going to be affected by it,” she claimed.
Lang continued that the area is home to plenty of wildlife, according to the Agency of Natural Resources, and that could be disturbed by wind farm. “It’s a high habitat block – a lot of animals are traveling. There’s a lot of concerns,” said Lang.
The Langs said they have been going door to door to talk to people about the potential project. “I’m still finding a lack of knowledge about this project that’s doing to affect the county,’ said Dustin Lang.
Christine Lang said the St. Albans Town Selectboard was one of their stops. “We wanted to give you the courtesy,” she said. “My suggestion is to educate yourselves on it.”
Palmer, who said he is aware of complaints raised about the Georgia Mountain wind farm, expressed his concern. “If you notice half the time, [the turbines] are not turning,” he said. “Until they make a grid change, they should not be putting more of these up. That’s just my opinion.”
Smith spoke of St. Albans Town’s relative inability to do anything about public renewable energy projects. “We don’t have any bylaws for solar or wind power that’s going in the grid,” said Smith. “It’s taken over by the State of Vermont.”
Selectman Bruce Cheeseman said, “We have designated places where we’d like to see them go, but that doesn’t mean they go there.”
The way the PSB process currently works, a project must be issued a “certificate of public good” by the Department of Public Service’s judicial body, the PSB. Municipalities and adjoining landowners are given notice of an application for certificate of public good 45 days before its filing, and at that point, recommendations can be made to the PSB, though the board is not required to answer to those recommendations.
“The Public Service [Board] basically has the last word,” said Cheeseman.
In regard to telecom installations, the PSB process has become slightly more responsive to municipal and resident concerns through Act 248a, a measure passed with the 2014 Vermont House Economic Development Bill. Any concerns or recommendations made to the PSB by municipalities or residents must be responded to before a certificate of public good is issued.
The bill, worked on by St. Albans Town Rep. Eileen (Lynn) Dickinson, went into effect last July. Dickinson, who was at Monday night’s meeting, said a similar bill is in the works for the PSB process with renewable of the energy projects.
“It’s sitting on the wall [House] Natural Resources Committee,” she said. Dickinson added that the current version of the bill includes language that gives “substantial deference” – as opposed to “due consideration” – to municipalities on designated areas for electrical generation projects.
“It’s looking at trying to do a substantial kind of thing that we did with cell towers,” said Dickinson in reference to Act 248a. “This is the kind of thing that gives you more say.”
She added of the whole PSB process, “This is an ongoing issue.”
In regards to the proposed wind turbines on Rocky Ridge Road, St. Albans Town Selectboard members said they would look into the pending project. “This is certainly a topic of interest to a lot of people,” said Cheeseman.
“They seem to be on the fast track – that is our concern,” said Dustin Lang.
Cheeseman responded, “Thank you for the awareness.”