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Ridgeline Destruction

In: Social Issues

Submitted By jrbeane67
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On October19, 1941 at approximately 6:56 pm a spinning two blade wind turbine began producing power on a hilltop known as Grandpas Knob in the town of West Rutland Vermont. This turbine ran for approximately 3.5 years, suffering numerous malfunctions and shutdowns. The project was abandoned in the spring of 1945 after one of the apparatus’s eight ton blades snapped off and crashing to the ground. While impressions on a whole deemed this pioneering experiment in wind power production a failure, the mountain top itself was spared from any massive destruction from this small scale wind project. Now Sixty-seven years later, a new generation of wind power turbines is being considered at this very same site and the surrounding area. Although this newly proposed wind farm along six miles of ridgeline is estimated to produce 50 megawatts of electricity and provide enough power for 15,000 households, this project will result in the irreversible destruction of this mountain top ecosystem. The environmental costs greatly outweigh any financial benefits that this proposed project offers. Background
In early 2007 a renewable energy company named Noble power, a company that specialized in wind turbine construction, met with local officials to float the idea of a wind park on the Pittsford ridgeline known as Grandpa’s Knob. Noble ran into financial problems as a result of the 2008 recession and was forced to close its Rutland office in January 2009.Another event happened in 2008 when Vermont set a goal of having 25% its energy needs met by renewables by the year 2025. One year later, Reunion Power, a renewable energy company based in Manchester VT, bought out nobles’ stake in the project and erected two meteorological towers and began gathering data on wind speeds. At the time there was some excitement about this project, as reflected in a statement made by West Rutland Town Manager Mary Ann Goulette saying the announcement was "Exciting news, everybody’s been asking about it for a while and hoping that the project would still be moving forward down the road. I guess we have a lot of wind. We might as well take advantage of it.” The towns of Pittsford, Castleton and Hubbardton were more reserved in their comments, a foreshadowing of future events (Dritschilo, 2010).
In April of 2011 Steve Eisenberg, the managing director of reunion power, gave a public presentation on the nuts And bolts of the project and here are some of the key points which are worth repeating here: 1) The proposed wind farm would consist of twenty turbines along six miles of ridgeline. 2) The total height of the turbines would be 400-500 ft. 3) Reunion claimed minimal environmental impact from the construction or operation of this wind farm. 4) The cost of the project is estimated to be between twenty to thirty million dollars with the return on the initial investment to take at least twenty years. 5) Public opinion and community support would critical to the advancement of the project 6) The project would create local jobs in a slow economy (Eisenberg, 2011). ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT

Vermont’s only viable utility-scale wind turbine sites are located on ridgelines that are mountainous and heavily forested. Some proposals for wind developments include up to ten miles of new roads atop ridgelines. These developments would bring fundamental changes to the ridges, and many undesirable environmental effects. Wind turbines are massive structures weighing many tons and you don’t just erect 20 turbines on an undisturbed ridgeline without consequences to the environment. The construction and operation of this project threatens to destroy this environmentally sensitive and unique landscape. Building utility-scale wind requires massive clearings (400ft or wider) for turbine bases. Erecting those turbines along more than six miles of ridgeline requires building roads — some sections will have to be half as wide as an interstate throughway — in places where corridors are now made by bear, moose, bobcat and deer. Previous wind turbine construction on Lowell Mountain in the Northeast kingdom has shown what is required to accomplish this feat. The profile of the ridgeline must be clear cut, and ‘reduced’ provide access to cranes and service vehicles. This was accomplished at that location with approximately 700,000 pounds of explosives that reduced parts of the mountaintops to rubble that was then used to build the access roads. It also required the clear-cutting on steep slopes of acres of healthy forest. Studies have shown that clear-cutting can lead to an increase in erosion to high-quality headwater streams, robbing them of life and fouling the water for downstream residents, wild and human. Potential wind sites in Vermont are on mountainous terrain with steep slopes. The mountains contain headwater streams that feed drinking water supplies and critical aquatic and wildlife habitat.
Habitat Destruction – Construction of roads and turbines requires blasting of bedrock and outcroppings, clear-cutting of forests, trucking in huge quantities of fill and construction materials such as concrete and rebar, and construction of holding ponds and other permanent features. The result is the equivalent of an industrial site located in critical forest, wetland, and other habitats. The wilderness qualities of these areas are lost (Hammond & Kilpatrick, William, 2009).
Habitat Fragmentation – Building the necessary infrastructure includes massive clearings that fragment wildlife habitats and significantly reduce the habitable area for bears and other wild creatures (Resources, 2011). Impacts to Birds and Bats – Recent studies of bats populations have found that many are attracted to the moving turbines, and are often killed due to the difference of air pressure around the blades. One project in West Virginia killed as many as 4,000 bats a year. Rotor tip speeds reach roughly 200 mph, and often kill close flying birds, including raptors that use thermals near ridges when migrating. Local bat populations, a vital part of natural insect control in the ecosystem, have already been devastated by the disease known as white nose syndrome (Blum, 2005).
Vermont’s Agency of Natural Resources findings after a site visit to Grandpas Knob were these: The proposed project would have an “undue adverse effect” on this rare natural environment that could not be abated. The ANR goes on to state that the grandpas knob habitat is vitally important for landscape connectivity in both the north-south and east-west directions, as well as home to many natural mountain top communities (nesting song birds bear bobcat fisher cat were some of the animals mentioned in the report) and rare plant species. The report went on to state that this area also has a significant population mast producing trees, particularly oak, that many wildlife species depend on for food (Groveman, 2012).
Even after the ANR report in April of 2012 Reunion power still had their sights set on the development of this sight for a wind farm. One would have to ask at this point, with public opposition building and in the face of this negative report, why would this company insist on proceeding with this project?

Wind Turbines Effects on Humans
The wind industry wants you to think that people are suffering no health or other ill effects from wind turbines. The most noticeable impact a wind turbine places upon the human environment is noise pollution, and many people compare the sound output of a wind turbine to a small jet engine (A neighbor of the Lowell project reported that with just two turbines turning, “it sounded like a 747 was flying overhead and never landing.”) or suffer from low frequency noise that is described as a drumming, (Wind turbines pressurize the air, making homes act like a drum) thumping, of humming sound. The symptoms they claim to have suffered are these – dizziness; balance problems; memory loss; inability to concentrate; insomnia; ; increased blood pressure; raised cortisol levels; headaches; nausea; mood swings; anxiety; tinnitus; palpitations; depression – yet the proponents of wind power dismiss these claims as being false or over exaggerated. Noise from these big machines can extend three to six miles in mountainous terrain, with residents within 2 miles most at risk. (Smith, 2012) Other impacts to humans include shadow flicker, water table destruction or contamination from the construction process, and the overall visual impact from these 500 foot bemoths planted on pristine ridgelines Government involvement and tax credits
Just as nuclear power wouldn't be viable without the federal insurance guarantee, many wind projects wouldn't be built without the various tax breaks. Although wind is free, the projects are expensive to start with because of the cost of the turbines, the land, the permitting requirements and construction. The wind production tax credit provides such a large subsidy that wind producers frequently pay the electricity grid to take the electricity they are producing. In fact, since 2008 in the western part of Texas, fully ten percent of the time wind operators paid the electrical grid to take their electricity. Any subsidy is obviously too large when it creates the incentive for companies to pay people to take their product. The reason that wind generators pay for people to take their product is because the tax credit is large compared to the wholesale price of electricity. The wind production tax credit is $22 per megawatt hour. In many areas of the country, the wholesale price of electricity is around $44 per megawatt hour, so a subsidy of 50 percent of the price of electricity is substantial. Not only that, but because of the tax credit, the wind producers make money giving the wind power away or even paying people up to about $20 per megawatt hour to take their electricity when electricity demand is low. (Simmons, 2012)
These tax credits may be a thing of the past. December 31, 2012 is the date when the federal tax credit is set to expire, and this will make wind power less competitive with other forms of energy production.
As far as state government goes, Vermont has adopted a goal of obtaining 90 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources by 2050. Energy projects now must obtain what is called a “certificate of public good” from the three-member state Public Service Board before they can be built. The review, commonly referred to as the Section 248 process, is heavily dependent on expert witnesses and legal arguments, with almost no room to consider public opinion. The PSB’s charge is to balance the benefits of a project against its drawbacks, including local opposition (NIMBY). Thus communities whose town plans oppose ridgeline wind development have no assurance that the PSB will therefore reject a project. This 248 process also totally circumvents the act 250 process that generally restricts any large scale construction development above 2500 feet. Governor Shumlin who publicly supports new wind projects, has a history of not listening to what local residents want, and has established a new commission to study the question of who should have a say on power projects and how that say should be heard. Shumlin, referring to mountaintop wind projects, states that we should build them “as fast as we can.” He also stated that “there is a price to be paid for all projects.” Economics
Vermont is known around the world for its natural beauty and pristine ridgelines. These very same attributes translate into a massive cash influx each year in eco-tourism dollars. Reports by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce show Vermont’s tourism economy is directly linked to over $1.6 billion in spending and over 60,000 jobs for Vermonters. A wind turbine ‘park’ will result in Disturbing Vermont’s image as the “Green Mountain State” in these areas. Those who come here for the undisturbed views will likely be disillusioned and go spend their money in other places (Morton, 2010). What about the claims made by Reunion Power that this project will create jobs in a slow economy? During the initial phase of construction there will be some job creation, as large construction projects such as these generally require a large work force to complete. Building utility-scale wind turbines on ridgelines also requires very skilled labor. Typically this skilled labor comes from a select few firms that are all located outside of Vermont. Operating these turbines requires only minimal manpower. Most wind projects create about one new job for every 10 turbines, (Shleede, 2011) so this would only work out to two new permanent job positions on the West Rutland project. Property values have also been shown to decline as a result of large scale wind turbine projects.

Local Opposition
As it was presented in the beginning of this research paper, one of the key points to the progression, completion and success of this wind project, outlined by Reunion power, would be public opinion and public support. There was some local excitement and buzz for this project in the beginning, but after the facts became available and local citizens saw the results of the devastation on Lowell Mountain in the Northeast Kingdom, public support turned to public outcry. In June of 2012, the select boards in the towns of Hubbardton, Castleton, Pittsford and West Rutland voted to oppose the Grandpa’s Knob wind park project proposed by Reunion Power. These votes took place after several months of open meetings, public protest and attendance at select board meetings by the opposition. They took place after formal presentations held by the developer in each town, as well as many private meetings at which the developer invited landowners and residents to discuss the project “in private.” Since that time other towns in Rutland County have followed suit. The Message was clear: Reunion power was no longer welcome in Rutland County.

Alternatives to Wind
Are there other viable renewable energy alternatives to building big wind turbines in Vermont? Yes there are. First and foremost is energy conservation. Energy production and consumption have social and environmental impacts. Energy conservation avoids these impacts. Benjamin Franklin, the famous inventor who made many important discoveries in the field of electricity, once famously uttered “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Incentives are available to help Vermonters improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Efficiency Vermont offers up to $2,000 in incentives per household to help Vermonters pay for energy efficiency home improvements completed by a certified Home Performance contractor. Solar also works in Vermont. Vermont’s solar resource is 620 times larger than its wind resource and Vermont has 30 percent more sun than Germany and Japan, both of which have heavily deployed solar. It is a better environmental option. Installing solar systems, whether home-based or community-scale “orchards” does not require clear cutting forests, bulldozing roads or blasting the tops off mountains. Industry data shows the cost of solar is on an historic downtrend, and should be equal to today’s retail electricity rates in 2015, just three years away. (Koch, 2010). Just recently the Public Service Board approved 150kilowatt solar project on a three acre lot in the city of Rutland. This project will take six to eight weeks to complete and are one of many proposed by Green Mountain Power (GMP). GMP has started an initiative that has the goal of making Rutland the city with the most solar capacity (per capita) in the Northeast. Many more local solar projects, among them a two MW development on the former Rutland city landfill, are being proposed locally by this utility company as well as other private firms. (Hirschfield, 2012)

While the door has yet to be completely shut on this project and Reunion Power has yet to pack their bags, it is the result of the communities organizing against large companies with deep pockets (and overwhelming government support) that have put the brakes on this environmentally devastating project. While the energy these massive structures provide may be renewable, Vermont’s pristine ridgelines are not.

Works Cited
Blum, J. (2005, January 1). Researchers Alarmed by Bat Deaths From Wind Turbines. Retrieved from Washington Post:
Dritschilo, g. (2010, january 09). Retrieved from The Rutland Herald:
Eisenberg, S. (2011, April 26). Retrieved from Vimeo video:
Groveman, J. (2012, April 24). Grandpa's Knob Wind Project. Retrieved from
Hammond, F., & Kilpatrick, William. (2009, Febuary 20). Retrieved from
Hirschfield, P. (2012, November 1). Rutland Herald. Retrieved from
Koch, W. (2010, August 24). U.s.A. Today. Retrieved from
Morton, J. (2010, march 10). Retrieved from
Resources, A. o. (2011, November). Retrieved from
Shleede, G. (2011, january 5). Retrieved from MasterResource:
Simmons, D. (2012, September 26). U.S. News. Retrieved from
Smith, A. (2012, November 9). Retrieved from VTdigger:

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