Wind power makes headway in Vt.
Major project wins town’s OK
LOWELL, Vt. - Last month, about 40 people from this northern Vermont town piled into a coach bus for a daylong trip to Lempster, N.H.
It wasn’t a tourism outing. The trip was arranged so people here could get a first-hand look at the windmills of the Lempster Wind Power Project before they voted on whether to endorse plans for a wind project in their town.
“We had people in doubt who came back feeling supportive because of what they saw and what they heard,’’ said Andy Tetreault, 67, of Lowell, a former dairy farmer who helped arrange the outing on behalf of the developers of Kingdom Community Wind. “They were actually converted by the trip.’’
And then some.
When the Kingdom Community Wind came to a vote last week at Town Meeting, residents voted 342-114 in favor of it. It still needs regulatory approval, but the size of the project and its resounding approval at the polls are noteworthy.
Despite its clean-and-green image, Vermont has been reluctant to embrace wind power, in part because people fear that towering windmills will spoil the mountain landscapes that are the state’s signature. Citizen opposition has delayed the start of several commercial wind projects, including a 16-turbine project by First Wind Corp. in Sheffield.
“The ball hasn’t been rolling fast in Vermont,’’ said James Moore, clean energy advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. “This is the beginning of something very different, which is aggressive support by those in power - namely the second-largest utility in the state - that’s both great for the local economy and provides affordable, safe, renewable energy for their customers,’’ said Moore.
The project, a partnership of Green Mountain Power Corp. and Vermont Electric Co-Op, calls for up to two dozen 400-foot tall wind turbines along a 3-mile stretch of the Lowell Mountain range ridgeline. The windmills, built mostly on leased private land, would generate up to 63 megawatts of power - enough to power about 20,000 homes.
With Lowell residents wary about giant windmills sprouting from hilltops, Green Mountain Power Corp. hired Tetreault and his wife, opened a local “office’’ in their 19th-century farmhouse, and spent about a year lobbying for the project in Lowell.
Sweetening the pot: Green Mountain Power Corp.’s promise to pay $400,000 to $500,000 in annual payments in lieu of taxes to the town, whose government has an annual budget of about $420,000 a year.
Next month, the project’s developers will apply for a certificate of public good from the state Public Service Board. Once that is obtained, construction can begin. Green Mountain Power hopes to be generating power by end of the 2012.
“It’ll give us a break,’’ said George Sargent, 57, a contractor, stopping for gas Friday at the Lowell General Store. “There’s no business here. You’ve got to have something to spur it. The way I look at it, it’s better than putting in a prison.’’