The Obama Administration announced today that a 15-turbine wind farm proposed for the Green Mountain National Forest in southern Vermont will receive expedited federal permitting and environmental reviews.
Deerfield Wind, a project to be built in Searsburg and Readsboro with a portion of it in the federal Green Mountain National Forest, will see its federal review conducted by year's end, speeding up the review process by as much as six months.
The wind farm is one of 14 so-called infrastructure projects that the Obama administration will give special treatment. The project's developer, Spain-based Iberdrola Renewables, has received top treatment by the Obama White House before. In 2010, it was revealed that the firm received nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds even though many of its projects were already underway.
"We are pleased the administration has recognized the significance that infrastructure investments, such as wind projects, can play in promoting economic development and that they intend to help expedite permitting for our proposed project on forest service land," said Paul Copleman, an Iberdrola spokesman.
The federal government is currently reviewing Deerfield, and an intitial decision from the district forester is expected next week. Appeals were initially scheduled to run at least 90 days before any review is passed up the federal food chain for a final decision. Today's news could compress that schedule dramatically.
The decision to speed up the project is the result of the Presidential Memorandum President Barack Obama issued in late August at the recommendation of his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness.
In it, Pres. Obama directed agencies to expedite environmental reviews and permit decisions for a selection of high-priority infrastructure projects that meet three criteria: They are expected to create a significant number of jobs; they have already identified necessary funding; and the steps remaining before their construction are within the control and jurisdiction of the federal government and can be completed within 18 months, according to a statement from the White House.
"The administration will apply broadly the information gathered while expediting these projects to further improve the permitting process for all projects," the statement reads. "And as part of the administration’s commitment to efficiency and transparency, beginning at the end of November, the public will also be able to track the progress of projects under review through one central website."
The White House had this to say about the Deerfield project:
Deerfield Wind Power Project, Vermont: This wind generation facility by Deerfield Wind LLC in the towns of Searsburg and Readsboro in the Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont would consist of 15 two-megawatt turbines. USDA Forest Service is working to expedite a Final Environmental Impact Statement before December 2011.
You can review the complete list of projects here.
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment is one of the only environmentalists to raise questions about building industrial-sized wind projects on Vermont ridgelines. She's concerned about the impact that Obama's fast-track deal will have on the wilderness.
"With the George D. Aiken Wilderness less than two miles from the proposed wind turbine site, the U.S. Forest Service and President Obama are now recommending that an industrial project should be built that will destroy the wilderness experience," said Smith. "Finally, we see concrete evidence of what Vermonters have been experiencing with the Sheffield and Lowell wind projects: It is not about good science, creating meaningful electricity, or reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Building big wind turbines on top of mountains in Vermont is entirely political and symbolic. Before anyone endorses these projects, they should take a hike to the tops of the mountains to see what it is they plan to destroy. We are witnessing true crimes against nature, there is no other way to put it."
Large-scale wind projects have proven controversial in some parts of the state. In recent weeks, a group of protesters have begun to occupy land neighboring the Lowell Wind Project owned by Green Mountain Power. The protesters are camping out in the blast zone that GMP must clear before it can blow apart parts of the ledge in order to put in the twenty-one 465-foot turbines.
Work on that project was halted recently when the Agency of Natural Resources discovered* that GMP's stormwater mitigation efforts failed to prevent erosion damage to parts of the mountain. GMP is allowed to work on fixing the drainage problems, but all other work has been halted for now.
* Clarification: After posting this story, GMP spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure contacted Seven Days to clarify that GMP self-reported the discharge to state officials who then trekked to the site to confirm the violation. That observation led to the stop work order.