Just three days into 2012, Vermont's critics of industrial wind power already have a new ridgeline in the sand to fight about: The USDA Forest Service just granted final approval to Iberdrola, Inc. to build more than a dozen, 393-foot wind turbines on two ridgelines in the Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont.
The project, known as Deerfield Wind, located near the towns of Readsboro and Searsburg, gained federal approval for 15 of the 17 turbines that were OK'ed two years ago by the Vermont Public Service Board. The PSB approval came despite objections from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and others that the project would damage critical bear habitat. The new ridgeline development will be located not far from the existing Searsburg Wind Power Facility, Vermont's first industrial wind project, which went online in July 1997.
According to Iberdrola, Deerfield Wind is expected to generate enough power to light 14,000 Vermont homes, or roughly three-quarters of the households in Windham County. In September 2010, Central Vermont Public Service announced a long-term, fixed-rate power purchase agreement with Iberdrola Renewables to buy 20 of the 30 megawatts generated by the Deerfield project for its Vermont customers. According to the Iberdrola website, it's now looking to secure other Vermont-based purchasers of the Deerfield electricity so all the power is consumed locally.
If Vermont's industrial wind opponents thought they were in a David-and-Goliath fight with Green Mountain Power — now in the process of merging with CVPS — their latest nemesis is exponentially larger. Portland, Ore.-based Iberdrola is the second largest wind developer in the United States, with more than 40 utility-grade energy projects nationwide, including wind, solar, biomass and gas-fired generators, as this map reveals. Iberdrola Renewables is the U.S. division of its Spanish parent, Iberdrola, S.A. Iberdrola S.A.'s website claims it has the largest renewable asset base of any company in the world, which includes 11,400 MG of renewable energy globally. ¡Muy enorme!
A familiar cast of local enviros have sounded alarm bells about this latest regulatory action. To wit: Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) put out a press release this afternoon condemning the decision — even before the USDA Forest Service had a chance to announce it.
Steve Wright of Craftsbury is the former Forest Service employee and Vermont Fish and Wildlife commissioner who's led the fight against th Kingdom Community Wind Project in the Lowell mountains.
"As a former USFS employee, I am appalled that the Forest Service would approve the wholesale damage to critical black bear habitat in order to squeeze out a few kilowatt hours of electricity," says Wright, in a press statement. "This is a serious error in judgment by the Obama administration for little or no effective climate change result."
As Wright points out, the ridgeline turbines would be located less than two miles from the George D. Aiken Wilderness, a fact that he and other opponents say was initially downplayed by both wind developers and the Forest Service. They claim that maps used at the public meeting for the project as recently as several months ago did not identify the nearby wilderness area.
"The decision is based on a process plagued with conflict of interest," alleges VCE executive director Annette Smith. "Experts were working for Iberdrola, the developer on a wind project in New Hampshire, at the same time they prepared the supposedly independent analysis for the Forest Service."
Smith claims the final EIS also violates the management plan for the George D. Aiken Wilderness, noting that the turbines would be visible from more than half the wilderness, "completely eviscerating" its whole purpose.
Justin Lindholm, a Mendon resident who serves on the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board and is a frequent visitor to the Aiken Wilderness, says that politicians "want to turn the Aiken Wilderness into nothing more than a tree park.”
Added Smith, "This is a bad project based on bad information leading to a bad decision."
Spokespeople for Iberdrola Renewables and the USDA Forest Service did not return calls as of press time.
Public domain photo courtesy of Petr Kratochvil