SOUTH BURLINGTON -- Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words on the op-ed pages of The Burlington Free Press. While the prospect of wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines has whipped up passions on both sides of the issue, an alternative energy development firm has come forth with a creative challenge to the pro-scenery, anti-wind mindset: David and Jan Blittersdorf, founders of Hinesburg's NRG Systems, commissioned landscape artist Sabra Field to design a woodcut incorporating wind turbines into a pastoral scene. The image does nothing less than update a Vermont icon.
The artist and the developers unveiled the finished product at the Blue Heron Gallery in South Burlington last Wednesday. It shows six sleek, silvery turbines spinning on a brilliant red and gold hilltop. A farmhouse lies in the valley below; Camel's Hump rises in the background. The scene is purely fictional, though Field said she drew the towers to scale; they're 250 feet tall at the hub, with 200-foot rotors. She did not, however, include the red strobe lights that would be affixed to the towers on either end of the line.
The 5:30 p.m. wine-and- cheese reception attracted 20 or so gallery-goers, many of them affiliated with the wind industry. Tom Gray, deputy executive director and director of communications for the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association, said he planned to buy one of the 200 framed prints.
Gray, who works from his home in Norwich, called the collaboration "ingenious." He suggested that by placing the turbines in a work of art, developers might counter the "branding" done by opponents, who have labeled the towers "industrial." "Does it really look like a factory?" he asked rhetorically. He compared the turbines to "monuments" or "sculptures," like the whale tails visible from I-89.
Jan Blittersdorf likened the turbines to the Eiffel Tower, which was initially derided as an eyesore. And she insisted that the turbines fit in fine with the state's aesthetic. "We have a working landscape that people have modified," she said, "and that's part of its charm."
Sheffield farmer Greg Bryant, a member of Ridge Protectors, didn't attend the gallery event. But in a phone interview, he calls the 1000-acre, 35-turbine project proposed for his town "out of scale" with other area developments. It's a complaint the 6-month-old citizen group trumpeted with a full-page ad in Sunday's Burlington Free Press. "These are so massive," Bryant observes. "They're taller than the Bennington Battle Monument. The base of them is bigger than my house."
Bryant says the members of his group don't oppose wind power. "Everybody in our group is an environmentalist," he notes. "We're all for green power." It's the size of the turbines they don't like, and the fact that the surrounding trees would be clear-cut to accommodate them.
Bryant says he doesn't believe a pretty picture can accurately convey the scope of the change wind advocates are seeking. "You have to stand at the foot of [a turbine] to get the feel for it," he says. "I don't think anything that size will ever be accepted as a part of our landscape."