Plans for the latest industrial-scale wind project in the Northeast Kingdom have taken a step backward.
Eolian Renewable Energy, a wind developer based in Portsmouth, N.H., withdrew its application to connect power from the proposed Seneca Mountain Wind project to the region's electric grid. ISO New England, the region's grid operator, has halted its review of the project.
Project manager John Soininen declined to comment on the decision and company CEO Jack Kenworthy did not return a phone call requesting comment Thursday.
The decision to back off the 20-turbine ridgeline wind project in Ferdinand was likely due to the cost of upgrading the transmission infrastructure needed to connect the remote wind power to the weak rural grid network.
Needed transmission line upgrades were estimated to cost $86 million, according to David Hallquist, CEO of Vermont Electric Cooperative.
"If I were running a project and I added $86 million to the cost of the project, it's no longer economically feasible," he said.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said the state is in a "breather period" in which transmission upgrades will be required before more renewable power is brought online.
"Our antiquated systems need to be modernized," he said.
Still, he said, Eolian's decision doesn't mark the end of big wind in the state.
"I don't think any one or so project either going ahead or pulling out is any indication of the state and health of the fuel of the future going forward," Klein said.
Opponents of industrial wind are hailing the decision to withdraw the application.
"Withdrawing a request like this generally signals the death of a project, so we are looking forward to hearing an announcement from SMW that they will completely abandon their plan to industrialize ridgelines in the Northeast Kingdom," said Mark Whitworth, executive director of Energize Vermont.
"The Seneca Mountain Wind project would have destroyed one of Vermont's most ecologically valuable wildlife habitat blocks," he said.