By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — The Swanton Town Selectboard discussed next steps in its fight against Swanton Wind at its Jan. 17 meeting.
The selectboard also appointed an interim zoning administrator, after the resignation of former zoning administrator Darlene Marrier.
The Town of Swanton is reaching out for state support while continuing its fight against the construction of Swanton Wind. The selectboard has prepared a letter to Governor Phil Scott, asking if the governor plans to implement his campaign promise to ban ridgeline wind projects, and if so, when.
Clark read the letter aloud. The letter notes money spent by the towns of Swanton, Fairfield and St. Albans on legal fees for participation in the PSB’s process, a process the letter states “is costing the citizens of all three towns tens of thousands of tax dollars that could be better spent on other needs such as road and facility improvements.” The Town of Swanton alone has committed $10,000 toward legal fees to participate in the PSB process.
The letter identifies reasons for the town’s concern: that Swanton Wind’s PSB application does not specify the number of turbines to be constructed (the application states “up to seven”), that it does not specify the turbine model to be purchased and that it does not specify the project’s expected electrical generation (the application states “up to 20 megawatts”).
The letter says the town selectboard is also concerned that “Vermont utilities do not want to purchase the power.” Swanton Wind’s PSB application states that both Green Mountain Power and the Burlington Electric Department decided not to purchase the project’s output, but that negotiations for a power purchase agreement with Vermont Electric Power Producers, of Manchester, are ongoing.
The Swanton selectboard’s letter also expresses concern that Swanton Wind could sell its output to Connecticut. The Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has tentatively approved the project to meet its state energy goals, but no formal agreement has been reached.
The selectboard’s letter further states the project’s construction would “damage precious natural resources and wildlife habitat,” an assertion contested by environmental researchers who studied the project’s plans and the area in which the project would be constructed, that the project would devalue adjacent properties, that it would adversely affect the health and quality of life of those living in close proximity and that the project would “diminish the scenic beauty of the ridgeline,” Clark read, “all for power that is being sold to Connecticut — exclamation mark.”
Those assertions are the central debate between the project’s developers and associated scientists and the project’s opponents, most of the latter living near the project’s proposed site. Determining which side of the argument possesses stronger evidence is the central question before the PSB.
Clark said the board is preparing similar letters for state agencies involved in the PSB process, including the Department of Public Service, a separate entity from the PSB, and the Agency of Natural Resources.
Penny Dubie, a Fairfield resident and one of the project’s core opponents, asked if the Swanton selectboard had been notified of the Northwest Regional Planning Commission’s (NRPC) stance on the project. The NRPC is another formal participant in the PSB process, but the group has not officially announced whether it will work to support or oppose Swanton Wind. Vermont statutes require the PSB to provide “substantial deference” to the NRPC in determining energy projects’ accordance with its regional energy plan.
NRPC member Harold Garrett is also the foreman of Swanton’s highway department. He gave Dubie an unofficial update on the NRPC’s process.
“Right now we’re waiting to see what the towns are going to do,” he said. “We’ve appropriated up to $10,000 that could be spent on that, but we don’t want to duplicate what the towns are going to do.”
Garrett said the NRPC will vote to oppose or support the project, but has not done so yet.
Selectboard member Daniel Billado pressed for more. “This has been going on a year and a half now,” Billado said.
But Garrett could not speak on behalf of the NRPC, and Clark said the selectboard would directly reach out to the NRPC to ask again when that vote might take place.
Dubie asked if she could encourage St. Albans and Fairfield to submit similar letters to Governor Scott. Clark encouraged her to do so.
Billado said the selectboard would also encourage Swanton’s village board of trustees to sign the town’s letter, or to submit its own.
“We definitely want a full-court press,” he said.