Vermont wind project contested

Monday, October 24, 2011

A wind energy project in northern Vermont is the focus of significant controversy.  Utility Green Mountain Power is currently developing the Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain near the town of Lowell in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom.  The 63 MW project is the first large-scale generation facility proposed by one of Vermont's investor-owned regulated utilities since the Searsburg wind project was approved in 1996. 

In May 2010, Green Mountain Power Corporation, Vermont Electric Cooperative, Inc and Vermont Electric Power Company, Inc. filed a petition with the Vermont Public Service Board seeking approval to build up to a 63MW wind generation facility, and to install or upgrade about 17 miles of transmission line and associated substations.

A year later, the Vermont Public Service Board issued its final order and certificate of public good approving the project (182 page PDF).  In the order, the Board found that "the proposed project will promote the general good of the state".  Among the factors supporting the Board's decision was the fact that the project would produce energy without greenhouse gas emissions, and would thus support the goals of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI).  The Board also noted that the project would help the state meet its goals of promoting new renewable generation as required in Vermont's SPEED, or Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development Program.  SPEED requires that, by 2012, at least 10% of the state's electric load be served by new sources of renewable energy.  The Board also noted economic development benefits from the project, including job creation and tax revenues as well as the benefits of providing the developing utilities a long-term source of stably priced power.

The project drew opposition from a variety of sources, including those who oppose mountaintop wind development generically as well as those opposing development of this particular site.  Now, while Green Mountain Power is preparing the site for construction, a group of protesters has set up a camp near the ridgeline.  Abutting landowners have also asked a court to delay blasting and other work, claiming that they own part of the land where the blasting will occur.

What will happen to the Lowell Mountain project?  Green Mountain Power planned to complete the project by December 3, 2011.  As the Burlington Free Press has noted, the company has argued that delay is costly, and that too much delay would be fatal: Green Mountain Power must have project up and running by December 31, 2012 to qualify for $48 million in federal tax credit that are part of the project's overall financing plan.

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