GRAFTON -- Grafton residents got a well-rounded education on the benefits and dangers of large-scale wind power during a three hour public information session Saturday.
More than 100 people showed up to the meeting, more than the number of people who showed up at a similar meeting held two weeks ago.
The last meeting was a presentation by Iberdrola, the developers of the proposed wind project in Grafton and Windham, and by Meadowsend Timberlands, the landowners who want to support the wind turbines.
Saturday's meeting included experts on both sides of the issue who stated their cases as Grafton and Windham decide how they are going to proceed with the controversial issue.
The large crowd filled the gym at the Grafton Elementary School as one side, and then the other, showed slides, presented data and talked about the benefits, and dangers of large-scale wind power.
Each side was given the opportunity to refute the claims and all afternoon the debate went back and forth.
Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group, talked about climate change, and about the role and responsibility everyone across the globe plays in reducing carbon emissions.
He quoted President Obama's inaugural address and State of the Union speech, and also talked about the dangers of fracking, tar sands, and coal.
Even if people are opposed to wind, Burns said opponents have to ask if wind is worse than the other options.
He said wind, along with solar and methane digestion can be a part of the solution.
"Nobody believes that wind is the magic bullet for Vermont," said Burns. "We oppose further dependency on fossil fuels and we have an obligation to say yes to certain things."
Dave Blittersdorf of All Earth Renewables talked about Vermont's wind power history. He grew up hearing about the test wind tower on Grandpa's Knob and said the tower inspired him to get involved with renewable energy.
The tower was built in the 1940s and was one of the first commercial turbines to send power into the grid.
Blittersdorf started a wind and then a solar company in Vermont.
He said Vermont's newest wind project, Georgia Mountain Community Wind near Burlington, is an example of a small wind project that has helped the state decrease its reliance on fossil fuels
Robert Dostis of Green Mountain Power also talked about the Lowell Mountain project. He said throughout that experience GMP worked hard to provide information and that was why he was in Grafton Saturday.
Dostis said Lowell Mountain has been a success, and proved that small-scale wind projects have a place in Vermont's overall energy production.
And Dostis said there were other benefits.
In-state wind power, he said, provides jobs, helps raise local taxes and keeps money within the communities where the projects are based.
Dostis said wind farms do change the landscape, but he said the environmental impacts were far less than those of mountain top mining, and other coal producing methods.
The Lowell Mountain project affected 20 acres of bear habitat, and less than two acres of wetland, but 1,800 acres were preserved in the process.
Dostis also said that information was crucial to working with the communities where the potential wind towers are proposed to go up.
Jeff Nelson, director of environmental services for Vanasse Hangen Brustlin, Inc. talked about the precautions crews take to protect the water when the turbines are being built.
Nelson said project managers manage erosion and work to control run off.
He said when turbines are going up the project managers and engineers are aware of sensitive areas and they stabilize areas and direct runoff to protect sensitive regions in the forests.
And he said all results are monitored during the project and after the last truck leaves the site
There was plenty of give and take between the two sides during the meeting.
Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment said GMP tore apart the community during the Lowell Wind Project, but Dostis said the company only provided information during the project.
Smith said her group has been trying to get developers to work on a collaborative model to bring in experts both sides can agree to.
"It's not about getting to yes," she said. "It's about everyone working together so we can hire experts that don't bankrupt a community."
Smith also said the modern wind turbines are getting larger with every project and she said if the Grafton wind turbines are approved they are likely to be even bigger than the turbines that are going up today.
She also talked about the effects of noise on local residents.
Smith said it is complicated to measure the noise, adding that it is the low frequencies and infrasound, which is not always measured, which affect people.
Wind projects across the country, and the world, Smith said, have been making people sick
Paul Brouha, who lives near the Sheffield wind turbines, said he has been affected by the noise coming off the turbines.
Smith also said land values will drop and grand lists will decline if the turbines go up.
Justin Lindholm, who lives in Lempster, N.H. near a wind project said properties have gone up for sale since the turbines arrived, but few properties have been sold.
"This is what we're noticing up around Lempster, and it's disturbing," he said. "It's not a very nice thing."
Andrew Torizzo of Watershed Consulting said properly located wind turbines can help combat global warming, but improperly sited turbines affect water quality.
He said the Sheffield and Lowell projects are failing to protect water resources.
It is impossible to control runoff from impervious surfaces on the top of mountains, he said, and Vermont's use of catching run off in pools does not adequately protect the environment.
The Lowell and Sheffield projects are proof, he said, that large-scale wind projects in Vermont do not work.
Ben Luce, of Lyndon State College, said that while wind projects in the Midwest do have a role to play in strengthening the nation's power supply, the East Coast does not have enough wind to make a real impact.
"We're never going to shut down mountain top mining or nuclear power with wind to any significant degree at all," said Luce.
Back and forth it went during the first two hours.
Supporters said the other side twisted the studies.
Opponents said wind developers were not giving the entire story.
Nelson accused the opponents of bringing up scary stuff, and of using unrelated incidences, such as Tropical Storm Irene, to make their points.
Opponents said it was useless to monitor streams miles away from the turbines, though Nelson pointed out that it was a part of the company's permit to do so.
And Dostis said the noise issue was complicated and the science hard to quantify, while Smith said people living near other wind turbines in Vermont are already suffering from the impact of the turbines.
"Their dismissal of the health effects exemplifies the problem," Smith said. "If you have these problems, this is real."
Luce, the Lyndon State professor, called the study the proponents were using to discount the health effects, "scientific garbage," stating that the study received no peer review.
For the last hour of the meeting Grafton residents asked questions, and most of them were looking for direct answers about how the project might affect their health, town, property values and environment.
A similar project was built in Lempster, N.H. and Town Administrator Ingrid Locher was at the meeting Saturday to answer questions about how the turbines there affected her community.
Locher was asked about "good neighbor agreements" between the power company and residents that prevented residents from talking about how the turbines are affecting them.
Some residents near the turbines have received payments as part of the agreement, she said, though she did not know how much money was involved.
Liisa Kissel, of Grafton, asked Dostis if Green Mountain Power would move ahead with its plan if the voters of Grafton reject it.
"If the community does not want it, we won't build it," he said, adding that the company worked closely with Lowell residents who eventually overwhelmingly approved that project.
Grafton residents will vote on a non-binding resolution at Town Meeting to see if the Selectboard should continue talking with Iberdrola and GMP officials about the wind turbines.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 279, or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @HowardReformer.