Coming soon to a ridgeline near you – unless you speak up

Saint Albans Messenger – September 29, 2015

That’s right, unless we the residents of Swanton, St. Albans and Fairfield get more involved and make our voices heard, we’ll soon be stuck with seven four hundred ninety nine feet tall industrial wind turbines on our scenic ridgeline on the east side of Swanton. And what should concern us even more is that seven may not be the final number……!

Let me first say I am all for responsible, cost effective, renewable energy. I applaud the state for setting an ambitious goal to meet that end. What I am opposed to is a project that does not make sense for the community. A project that is wrong for many reasons.

On the macro level, this project is a great example of the lack of local control given to the local select boards and planning commissions. That is an issue that we must let our elected officials, representatives and senators know. Local control needs to be reestablished for large scale solar and wind generation projects.

On the project specific level, this project should have us concerned for several reasons. I’ll cover five statements made in the developer’s 45 day submittal that should concern us all. First a little background:

Reputation of the developer of this project. On file in the zoning office is documentation of issues the developer had with the subdivision he created in the last decade. Originally he told the Planning Commission there were no wetlands. According to state records 73,659 square feet of wetland was disturbed and a total of 20,018 square feet of wetland buffer zone was impacted. In July 2009 the developer was notified by the zoning administrator that he had failed to obtain Certificates of Occupancy yet he allowed the buildings to be occupied – a violation of the Swanton Zoning Bylaws. In the case of the wind project this developer failed to obtain a certificate of public good for the meteorological tower that was installed in 2011 to measure the wind. Failure to get the certificate of public good kept the local officials and adjoining landowners from being notified of the potential industrial wind project. As early as August 2014, staffers at the VT ANR were encouraging the developer to notify the local boards of the project. It was not until March 2015 that the developer made his plans known to the Swanton Select Board.

On August 24, 2015 the developer gave his 45 day notice that he was planning to file an application for a certificate of public good for the actual installation of seven industrial wind turbines on Rocky Ridge. The 45 day notice went to the Swanton Select Board and the Swanton Planning Commission. In it were several statements that should have us concerned. Here are a few:

Number one false statement – The project would bring 3.7 million dollars in local tax revenues to the Town of Swanton over twenty years. Our listers have stated the figure will be much less. I challenge the developer to show us the data behind this claim. It also needs to be noted, that there are an estimated 134 homes within one mile of the wind generators. No figures of the estimated decrease in property value have been provided.

Number two false statement – How about this: “although the project will be visible from some areas, view of the project will not be dominant or out of scale.” How could anyone write that when the industrial wind turbines being proposed are 499 feet tall and sit on a ridgeline that is 300+ feet above the surrounding area? Coupled with this is the statement “The development of locally generated power from a working landscape environment is within the tradition of the local surrounding area which includes a hydropower project, traditional agricultural, maple sugaring operations and the harvesting of forest resources.” Is the developer really trying to equate installing 499 foot tall industrial wind turbines with maple sugaring? Or a dam on a river several miles away? How gullible does he think we are?

Misleading statement number one – “I expect that the project will result in dozens of new jobs created in Vermont”. I challenge the developer to provide a list of the dozens of new jobs he is talking about. Are they permanent? Once the project is complete, one or two maintenance personnel will periodically check on the equipment. They may not even reside in Franklin County.

Misleading statement number two – “and in particular Franklin County, during the construction period, with over $2.5 million in wages to be paid in Vermont during the construction in 2016 alone.” Yes paid in Vermont, but to whom? Some of the jobs will be with local contractors but many are specialized and will go to contractors outside Vermont.

Missing statement – nothing in the 24 August letter addresses safety. During the 01 September Swanton Select Board meeting a consultant for the developer was asked about safety setbacks for the wind turbines. She said she did not know but would provide the answer. To date no manufacturer or state mandated safety setbacks have been provided. The consultant stated the blades would fall to the ground due to gravity. I encourage you all to go on line and witness a failing wind generator. Yes gravity will eventually bring the shrapnel to the ground, but not before some potentially deadly pieces travel fifteen hundred feet or more.

Yes, before you know it, the developer will receive the certificate of public good and we’ll have a living testament to what is wrong in our state. Or will we? I implore you to get involved and let your local and state officials know that this project is not wanted in Swanton. Also let them know you want local control reinstated for local boards and commissions for the siting of renewable energy projects. The Swanton Select Board is considering having a special vote regarding this project and local control of renewable energy projects. If that happens please get involved and make your voice heard.

Thanks for listening, Joel Clark

Swanton Resident (do not reside near the ridge) Vice Chair Swanton Select Board
Chair Swanton Development Review Board

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