Rocky Ridge wind fair and heeding public concerns

Saint Albans Messenger; August 20, 2015

From 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday, a “Wind Fair” will take place on Rocky Ridge Road off Rt. 105 in Swanton, just a short distance from the intersection of Rts. 105 and 104.

For anyone interested in renewable energy, or how Vermont decides F to approve proposed solar and wind projects, or how the state intends to get to its renewable energy goal, or whether an affected property owner’s concerns can be heard, or a discussion of health concerns, property values, etc., the event should be required attendance.

It’s about becoming informed. With good reason.

A 20-megawatt wind project has been proposed by Travis Belisle, who owns the ridge land involved and who is the person who sold the property to those who are now questioning his project and how they might be adversely affected.


Their concern is understandable. Seven 500-foot high wind turbines are being proposed. For comparison, the 10-megawatt Georgia wind project has four turbines and they are roughly 100 feet shorter. The 500-foot turbines would be the highest in Vermont.

The higher and bigger they are, the greater the concern. As has been made perfectly clear, it’s impossible to site a wind farm of any significant size and not invite opposition. There are only four industrial-scale wind projects operating in Vermont; the emphasis in Vermont has shifted to solar, which is easier to site, more economical, and free of the concerns that plague wind power projects.

That doesn’t mean the wind projects are without value, it just means the approval process is more difficult. Ask Jim Harrison, the developer of the Georgia wind project.

There isn’t any process that can be put in place that will please all parties. But the surest way to hobble this project and those that will follow is to keep those with concerns at arms-length, to deny them the chance to have their voices heard, and to dismiss their concerns as overblown.

That is the importance of the Wind Fair on Saturday. It’s the reason the town plan for Swanton village and town was revised this week to include language that reads: “However, commercial renewable energy projects must benefit and not impose adverse economical, environmental, or health issues on the community and area in which it is to be located.”

The opposition has also caught the ear of Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Public Service Department, who is beginning to realize that not everyone in the shadow of a wind turbine is thrilled. Melodie McClain makes that point in a letter printed elsewhere on this page.

If these concerns are ignored, or belittled, then the opposition only hardens, which could ultimately threaten the state’s ability to meet its overly-ambitious goal to have 90 percent of its energy come from renewable energy by 2050.

If we don’t figure out better ways to site our large solar and wind projects, there could be fewer of them. A recent solar power proposal near Windsor has attracted significant local opposition. People are beginning to look at them as unsightly, and out of scale with the countryside. We can expect little else if the projects are plumped down next to the side of a road where they are in full public view and if they run on acre after acre. Is that the best we can do?

That said, the reason Mr. Recchia and the Public Service Department are given such regulatory authority is that nothing would ever happen if the neighbors to a project were allowed to determine its fate. The department’s obligation is to make decisions based on the state’s needs, or the common good. That sort of authority is essential if Vermont is to make any progress on the renewable energy front.

But that sort of authority is something that can be taken away if it’s abused, if those in power begin to sense that the public’s voice is being silenced and the opposition is deepening.

As with any project that involves a lot of money, and touches a lot of lives there is the tendency to short-circuit things, to clip conversations, and to dismiss concerns. That’s usually a mistake, which is why the Wind Fair on Saturday holds value. Anytime the public is invited to learn more about something as important as renewable energy, we benefit. It’s a time to ask questions, to listen to those with direct experience, and to be open to information that might be contrary to what you thought you knew.

The goal is still the same, which is the need to be aggressive with our renewable energy interests, including hydro. It’s the path that needs rethinking.

by Emerson Lynn

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