Tuesday February 5, 2013

GRAFTON -- A land owner, and representatives from an international wind power company, came before Grafton residents Saturday to talk about their plans to investigate the potential for siting a commercial wind turbine project within a 5,000-acre parcel of land in Grafton and Windham.

About 60 people showed up to the Grafton Elementary School for the meeting, which was the first of two Grafton meetings scheduled.

The second meeting will be held on Saturday, Feb. 16, at 1 p.m. and will include a panel discussion by wind power opponents and supporters.

At the meeting Saturday employees of Meadowsend Timberlands LTD, the New England company that owns the land, as well as representatives from Iberdrola Renewables, explained the project and answered questions from Grafton residents.

Although the meeting was the first time Grafton residents were able to address the two companies, the representatives were unable to give many specifics about the project.

Throughout the meeting Iberdrola representatives stressed that it would likely be seven to nine years before the turbines go up, if the project proceeds, and they said it is hard to answer many specific questions at this time before they do preliminary testing.

Last month the Public Service Board approved the installation of three meteorological towers, one in Grafton and two in Windham, which will give the company important meteorological information.

The company said construction on the met towers will begin in the coming months.

Chuck Nickerson, who lives at the end of Styles Brook Road, asked if he would be able to hear the wind turbines from his house.

Jenny Briot, a wind developer at Iberdrola, said it would be impossible to give Nickerson an answer until more tests are done on the site.

The company also was asked if decommissioning money was included in wind projects and Briot said the state of Vermont does require a decommission fund to help cover costs associated with removing the towers at the end of their useful life.

Jamie French, one of the partners at Meadowsend Timberlands LTD, was asked if the company would push the project ahead, even if residents of Grafton and Windham say they are opposed to the turbines.

"I can’t answer that," French said. "We would have to weigh all our options."

French said it has become increasingly difficult to operate a successful timberland business in New England due to rising operating costs, international competition and shrinking domestic furniture manufacturing.

He said his company wanted to keep Vermont forests wild, but if people want to enjoy the benefits of a healthy forest, the company needed alternative income sources.

He said wind power could be one such source.

French said at the meeting that his company would remain in contact with the town, and promised to keep the town up to date on activity as the project moves ahead.

Some Grafton residents wanted an article on the Town Meeting warning asking voters if Grafton should prohibit large scale wind energy, but the Selectboard members rejected the petition because they said it was up to the Public Service Board, and not the town, to decide on large scale projects.

Grafton residents, instead, will vote on whether the Selectboard should continue discussions and collecting information on the wind power development.

While it was hard for the project developers to answer many questions Saturday they stressed that the construction of the met towers was only the first step in a very long, multi-year process, and they said there would be plenty of opportunities for townspeople to weigh in on the project if it moves ahead.

"It’s very important to us that we have an open and collaborative process," French said. "Some of the questions are difficult to answer. There are so many unknowns right now."