Wind power in our backyard? Part 2 ....
With the recent interest of Citizens' Energy in the Mad River Valley ... and their open request for the community to "consider" a 24 wind tower project on the Northfield Range ... I've never seen people screwing themselves into the ground quite as hard. It's the dream that energy geeks have been waiting for! It's the nightmare of opening a pristine ridgeline to development! It's a floor wax! It's a dessert topping!
There are undoubtedly numerous pros to the issue. Top of the list is that it will allow locals to put their money where their mouth is on environmentalism. It will offset some of the helplessness we all feel about the BP oil spill. It will help the region take a step toward a renewable energy future. And it will significantly defray local property taxes, possibly by as much as 10%. Or more.
But of course there are cons to the issue as well. In a state with only 10% public land, the undeveloped Northfield Ridgeline is a treasure. It's a critical wildlife corridor for large animals, a critical migratory corridor for birds, and the primary must-be-defended-at-all-costs resource of the Town of Waitsfield's comprehensive plan. A commercial wind farm will mean placing a service road on the entire length of the ridge. There'll be cement. There'll be fences. A commercial wind farm will also mean noise to some neighbors, and an illuminated ridgeline at night with all the safety lights they'll be required to put up.
The scenic impact? We don't know for sure as some people hate the idea yet others love it, but the question of where you'll see the farm is still worth considering. According to a "viewshed analysis" that a friend of mine just did (admittedly unofficial and impefect), you'll be able to see a wind farm on the ridge from just about everywhere .... in Waitsfield as well as far away Waterbury and even Stowe. The pink areas on this map are the places that would catch a glimpse of the spinning towers.
As a town planning commish -- part of the group tasked with writing a town plan that either supports or prohibits such a wind farm -- I've talked to a few dozen people about the idea of a wind farm over the last few weeks. In those travels I've met numerous people that are wholly against the idea, a great deal of folks who are undecided, and a sparse number of eager proponents. It's hardly indicative of a legitimate sample, but it's still food for thought.
Speaking as one member of the PC and not reflecting the opinions of the group or the Town, my instinct at the moment is to preserve the language of the current town plan: that ridgeline preservation is paramount, and that a commercial wind farm on the Northfield Range is prohibited. I feel that since we're in the 11th hour of completing the new plan, that to make such a substantial change to this fundamental building block would be potentially unwise, hasty, and reactionary.
However, I would encourage proponents of wind on the Northfield Range to petition the planning commission. If you're that supportive of a wind project, put it on paper. Let us know that as a community member, you want us to change the language of the Town Plan to allow for a commercial wind farm on the ridgeline. Make it as specific as possible (ie, a vague comment like "do you support wind in Vermont" will get us nowhere) regarding the number of towers you'd want to see.
By doing so, the idea of wind on the Northfield Range will take a very public, yet very specific course. It won't get tied into the approval of the entire Town Plan draft, and as such it will provide very specific input to the PC and the Selectboard. It'll also provide an opportunity for serious public discussion -- with plenty of breathing room so that all the pros and cons can be considered by all the citizens of the community.
Thanks for listening.