Saint Albans Messenger; November 10, 2016
Commission receives additional info about project
By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — Though the Northwestern Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) has not yet decided whether it will oppose or support Swanton Wind, the NRPC has issued a memo to the project’s developers expressing initial concerns with the project. The NRPC Steering Committee reviewed the project’s response to those concerns at a policy and project review meeting in the Swanton Municipal Complex Wednesday evening.
The NRPC’s take on the project is relevant for two reasons. First, the NRPC decided in October to file for party status in the Public Service Board (PSB)’s review process concerning the project. Second, the PSB must consider the project’s compliance with the NRPC Energy Plan — although the plan’s draft status leaves uncertain whether the PSB is required to consider the project’s compliance at this time. NRPC Regional Planner Taylor Newton called that uncertainty “an interesting legal question” at a recent presentation of the plan, indicating that the decision ultimately lay beyond the NRPC’s control.
NRPC members raised concerns
NRPC Regional Planner Taylor Newton reviewed the commission’s initial concerns with Swanton Wind, and the project’s response, at a meeting last night.
Messenger file photo
about the project after a presentation in October by Vermont Environmental Research Associates (VERA)’s Martha Staskus and Arrowwood Environmental’s Dori Barton. Staskus and Barton presented Swanton Wind’s environmental studies, wildlife studies and visualizations as a sampler of information contained within the project’s PSB application.
The NRPC’s initial concerns began with wetlands near the project’s proposed site. Swanton Wind’s PSB application details Class 2 and 3 wetlands on-site. The Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) can determine Class 2 wetlands significance. Class 3 wetlands are not sufficiently significant to warrant protection, according to the ANR. Swanton Wind is designed to avoid all wetlands and wetland buffers.
The NRPC questioned the project’s effect on large habitat blocks in the area. Its representatives said fragmentation of those blocks would be minimized. The project will be concentrated in the western part of the largest habitat block, and “should not” affect movement between habitat blocks.
Similarly, the project will not impact a deeryard, but the deeryard’s buffer, Swanton Wind representatives said. The project will adopt a forest management plan to manage deer habitat in the area, maintaining or conserving 32 acres.
Then there was the flicker effect, a concern raised by the NRPC during Swanton Wind’s first appearance before the commission in 2015. Newton said project representatives promised there will be a flicker effect for a cumulative 30 hours per year for any resident 200 meters from the project or any turbine. Along the same lines, project representatives reiterated noise will be kept below an hourly average of 45 decibels.
Finally, Newton confirmed that the project’s PSB application does address the project’s effect on bats and birds. Studies described within the application conclude there will be “no undue or adverse effect” on local bird and bat life.
Fairfield Zoning Administrator Alisha Larocque questioned whether Swanton Wind’s turbines would be visible from the Chester A. Arthur Historic District in Fairfield. Fairfield’s zoning bylaws require any construction in the Historic District “must not change the historical character or environmental quality of the area,” seemingly exempting Swanton Wind, since the project would be constructed outside the Historic District. Newton confirmed that the turbines would be visible from the Historic District.
Swanton resident Chris Leach emphasized, “The real question is the economic impact.” Swanton Wind has not yet determined where its Renewable Energy Credits, commonly referred to as RECs, would be sold. The project’s PSB application mentions the possibility of selling its RECs to VEPPI in Vermont, or to the State of Connecticut to meet its energy goals.
“It’s going to affect every single electric company along the path,” Leach predicted. Leach serves on Swanton Village’s Board of Trustees, which oversees the village’s hydropower facility.
Newton confirmed the project’s PSB application does not discuss Swanton Wind’s ratepayer impact.
The committee chair, Bill Irwin, noted that Swanton Wind responded quickly and “fairly comprehensively.” He stressed that NRPC members must now “think about good content for the [PSB] intervention,” although the nature of that intervention remains undecided. The schedule of the PSB’s process also remains undetermined.
“Frankly, we don’t know how much time there is,” Irwin said.
Leach ended the conversation hammering in his point. “If there was a need for this power, we’d say, ‘Great, bring it on,’” he said. “But there isn’t. They just don’t have the market.”