Senators give update on wind legislation changes
By Susan Smallheer
Staff Writer | March 03,2013
GRAFTON — Vermont towns and “local control” would gain under revised legislation now under consideration in the Vermont Senate, three senators said at a forum on commercial wind development.
The discussion, hosted by Friends of Grafton’s Heritage, which is fighting a proposed wind project in Grafton and Windham, brought out about 100 people Friday night from the Grafton and Windham communities.
Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, and Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia/Orange, said they were concerned about the development of Vermont’s ridgelines by commercial wind developers and the lack of local control in the decision-making process.
The three lawmakers told the gathering that they recently withdrew their proposal for a three-year moratorium on wind development projects because of a lack of support.
Instead they have included provisions in their bill that would make large-scale wind projects adhere to provisions of Act 250, the state’s primary land use law, in addition to Section 248, which is governed by the state’s Public Service Board and covers energy issues.
While many key elements of Act 250 are also included in Section 248, under the mandated goal of “common good” the Public Service Board can ignore local concerns, Galbraith said.
Galbraith noted that Windham’s town plan specifically bans any commercial wind development on its ridgelines, yet the PSB earlier this year granted Atlantic Wind permission to put up three wind testing towers — two in Windham and one in Grafton, in anticipation of a full-blown wind project.
Atlantic Wind is leasing 5,000 acres from Meadowsend Timberlands of New London, N.H., 3,500 acres in Windham and 1,500 acres in Grafton, for its project.
Hartwell, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee — where the wind legislation is currently undergoing revision — and Benning urged residents to talk to Sen. Jeannette White, D-Windham, and if applicable their senators in the Windsor County Senate district, which now includes the Windham County town of Londonderry, to voice their concerns.
The Senate is currently divided 15-15 on wind issues with Lt. Gov. Phil Scott, who would cast any tie-breaking vote in the chamber, skeptical of industrial wind, Hartwell and Benning said.
Galbraith said he fully supported alternative energy, but Vermont’s mountaintops and ridgelines were not the appropriate place for large-scale wind development.
The case of Windham and its town plan is striking, said Galbraith, adding he wanted towns to be able to block wind development within their borders if they wanted to.
“Something is wrong with the process,” Galbraith said.
Benning said he supported wind development until “I climbed up Lowell Mountain” and saw the destruction necessary for the wind towers in the Green Mountain Power project.
Benning said that “pristine wilderness” was being destroyed by the effects of a 3½-mile-long ridgeline road, and another 3½-mile road connecting the ridgeline road to a main road.
In the process, he said Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind has destroyed 135 acres of forest that “are our best carbon scrubber.”
Hartwell said the state review process of wind projects “doesn’t include Vermonters,” and the process needs to be changed.
Grafton residents will take up the hot topic of wind development at town meeting with two articles. One asks residents if the Grafton Select Board should continue conversations with Meadowsend Timber and its developer, Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company.
The second article asks voters if any vote on the issue in the future should be by Australian ballot.
Friends of Grafton’s Heritage opposes both articles, said Liisa Kissel, one of the group’s organizers.