Saturday December 29, 2012

WINDHAM -- When the state Department of Public Service backed the Town of Windham's fight against wind power a few months ago, town officials said they were "hopeful."

They're now using a different word: "Discouraged."

However, in the wake of the state Public Service Board granting approval for erection of wind-testing towers in Windham, Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Boyer also said the permitting process has been a valuable experience.

"Although we were hoping that the PSB would support our right to determine our own land use as the governor has suggested, that is not to be at this time," Boyer said in a statement sent to the Reformer.

"In the process, we have learned a lot, we have not been divided as a community, we had excellent legal advice and we even had the full support of the Public Service Department," Boyer stated. "We had people from around the state reaching out to us and offering encouragement."

She added: "Not at all bad for one of the tiniest towns in Vermont."

Atlantic Wind LLC in June first disclosed its intention to build two meteorological-testing (MET) towers in Windham and another in Grafton.

Depending on the weather data those towers produce, they could be the precursor for construction of Windham County's first commercial-scale turbines. Such a project would be subject to its own permitting process.


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But Windham had fought hard against Atlantic Wind's initial proposal, arguing that its town plan banned industrial windmills and should apply to MET towers as well.

Atlantic Wind, a subsidiary of wind-power developer Iberdrola Renewables, argued that town plans cannot trump the state's permitting decisions.

In October, the state Public Service Department sided with Windham and urged rejection of Atlantic Wind's application.

But the state Public Service Board -- a separate, independent entity -- had the ultimate say. And in a Dec. 20 decision, the board granted Atlantic Wind a certificate of public good to build the test towers.

The structures will be built on land owned by Meadowsend Timberlands Limited, a New Hampshire company owned by the French family.

"We appreciate the board's willingness to see the value in measuring the wind," Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said in a prepared statement.

"We look forward to working with the French family in measuring the wind in order to assess whether a renewable wind project is a viable option," Copleman said. "We also look forward to working with the towns of Windham and Grafton in a collaborative way to pursue a future that works for the communities and the region."

Boyer said she has not yet had a chance to speak with other members of Windham's Selectboard and members of the planning commission to determine what the town's next steps might be.

Grafton town officials have not taken a formal position on the project, instead seeking more information on wind power and arranging a tour of a turbine site in Lempster, N.H.

But a group of residents calling themselves Friends of Grafton's Heritage oppose the Atlantic Wind project and have sought to amend the town's plan to prohibit industrial-scale wind.

Liisa Kissel, a leader of that group, said she was "very disappointed" with the Public Service Board's decision.

"We thought there was a strong possibility that the board would not approve of Iberdrola's application," Kissel said.

She said the group would continue to push for town-plan amendments in an effort to "protect our town against this very inappropriate facility."

Kissel also said she backs a statewide moratorium on wind power, an initiative that also has support from Windham town officials. Kissel noted that there has been discussion about a moratorium among some state lawmakers.

"We hope there is a renewed attempt to look seriously at the situation," she said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.