The logistics of snapping aerial photographs of Green Mountain Power's Kingdom Community Wind project weren't all that difficult, says amateur photographer Steve Wright.
"I got in a plane ... stuck my upper body out the window, and pushed the shutter," says Wright, a Craftsbury resident who has pushed hard against the 21-turbine industrial wind project atop the Lowell mountains.
Easy enough, right?
It's what came after that was difficult for Wright to bear. He's been hiking in the Lowell mountains since 1971, but now "this older body" prevents Wright from visiting. So he took to the air with pilots from Newport-based Lakeview Aviation to see for himself how construction for the ridgeline wind development had changed the once-familiar landscape.
"I was concentrating on the shots, and getting the shots, and that allowed me to work without losing it," Wright says. "But I have to tell you, when we turned and headed back, I was choked up."
Wright captured the bird's-eye view of the development from between 500 and 1000 feet above the construction site, where GMP is rushing to complete the wind project by the end of the calendar year. Wright finds himself on one side of a fierce debate over wind power in Vermont that pits environmentalists worried about habitat destruction against environmentalists worried about renewable energy. Wright retired two years ago after a long career in environmental education, and says his long emotional connection to the Lowell mountains spurred him to action when he learned about the GMP project.
He took to the sky to document, Wright says, the extent to which the landscape is being altered to make way for wind turbines.
"It’s my contention that the carbon emissions reduction and the amount of electricity that’s gained from these projects are not nearly worth the landscape alteration that occurs." Wright says. "That’s based on my fundamental belief that the best climate change action that we can take in Vermont is to keep our landscape in one piece."
Opponents of the Lowell project realize it's too late to prevent development on their local ridgeline, but Wright hopes his photographs might help neighbors near other proposed projects — such as the Seneca Mountain project near Brighton and the Grandpa's Knob project in Pittsford — think twice. He has another motivation for snapping the aerial photographs: Wright says some may be used to dispute trespassing charges brought against six protestors arrested for trespassing in December.
GMP spokesman Robert Dostis counters that Wright's photographs only present a snapshot of a moment in time, and that much of the disturbed landscape will be revegetated after construction wraps up.
"If you take pictures of an active construction site, it’s not going to look all that pretty," says Dostis. "Once all the slopes have been revegetated, they will all be covered with green."
Wright isn't convinced that the trouble will end there. "When you cut a big road like that into an existing, intact ridgeline, you are altering the entire ecology of the system," he says.
Photographs by Steve Wright