Monday December 10, 2012

DOMENIC POLI

Brattleboro Reformer

GRAFTON -- A Lyndon State College professor was the keynote speaker at last week's public meeting sponsored by a group opposing any test towers and wind turbines in Grafton.

More than 100 people crammed into The White Chapel last week to hear Professor Ben Luce describe his research and work that has convinced him the installation of such structures are not appropriate for Vermont.

Iberdrola Renewables, operating as Atlantic Wind LLC, is one of the world's largest energy companies and formally asked for the state's permission to construct three test towers -- two in Windham and one in Grafton on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited.

The towers could be a precursor to Windham County's first commercial wind turbines.

But a group called Friends of Grafton's Heritage is adamantly against the proposal and invited Luce, a professor of physics and sustainability studies, to speak to area residents about what he has learned.

Luce did not return a phone call seeking comment but Liisa Kissel, who heads the group's effort, spoke to the Reformer about the Nov. 26 event.

"The feedback from the folks that attended the meeting, the people that I've talked to, all have said he was incredibly fact-based and full of good information -- technical, scientific," Kissel said, "and he knows the economics of the business and he's familiar with wind power from the west, where he has actually been involved in advocating in places like New Mexico.


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"He has been in Vermont for five years and he has studied wind power here in New England," she continued, "and has come to the conclusion that it doesn't make any sense for our circumstances."

Kissel said Luce spoke for an hour-and-a-half and took questions from the audience.

Grafton resident and real estate agent Phil Atwood said at the meeting he has heard from people who refuse to live near wind turbines.

"There are three land parcels on Old Farm Road in Windham and would have a westerly view of the wind turbines and some people wouldn't even come look at (the land)," he told the Reformer this week.

There were also two Iberdrola representatives at the meeting, but they did not participate in the discussion. Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman told the Reformer it is unfortunate that the meeting was put together by individuals with a predisposed opinion.

"We were disappointed about the lack of discussion about the facts of wind power," he said in a telephone interview. "There is a lot to talk about."

Copleman said Iberdrola looks forward to a collaborative and transparent process and added that this is just "the very, very beginning."

State Sen. Peter W. Galbraith (D-Windham) was unable to attend the meeting but sent a letter of support to the Friends of Grafton's Heritage. He, like the group, wants individual towns to have more say in what goes on within their boundaries.

"Wind projects on Vermont's ridgelines do considerable damage to the environment in their construction phase with roads and platforms penetrating and disrupting sensitive mountaintop watersheds and wildlife habitats," he wrote. "Once operating, the turbines are visible for miles while people close to the turbines have to endure the noise and lights."

During the most previous legislative session, Galbraith wrote, he introduced legislation aimed at giving towns final authority over large-scale wind projects. He said the bill specifies that any large-scale wind project would have to be approved by all towns it would have an effect on.

Kissel, who said a few people spoke in support of the wind project, was very happy with the turnout.

"We had about 125 at least ... plus about 30 additional people that could not get in. The place was packed," she said. "We easily could have had 150 if we could have accommodated them.

"If we had known we maybe could have gotten a bigger (place)," she added.

Iberdrola has had four public invitations to its Lempster, N.H., site and it bused people there during the last one. The people of Grafton were able to tour the company's 12-turbine, 24-megawatt site on Wednesday, Oct. 3, and Thursday, Oct. 4, to see for themselves how they work.

The Friends of Grafton's Heritage are now working on amending language in the town plan regarding test towers and wind turbines. Kissel said signatures from 5 percent of Grafton's registered voters are needed before a petition can be brought before the planning commission, which will eventually send it along to the Selectboard. Kissel said she has close to 10 percent.

"A lot of folks at the meeting last Monday came to us and said, ‘We're going to sign.' We gained a lot of support from the meeting, including people who literally changed their minds because of the meeting," she said. "We're going to go talk to everybody that attended the meeting and see where they stand and many of those folks will sign our petition."