GRAFTON -- What are the impacts of wind energy on water in the nearby communities where turbines are located?
That was the principle topic of discussion at the third wind forum that was held concerning a potential project by Iberdrola Renewables -- a company headquartered in Spain.
Iberdrola Renewables built two test towers (MET towers) in Windham and one in Grafton on land owned by the New Hampshire based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited, which some believe is a precursor to an application for a large scale wind development project in Windham County.
Geoffrey Goll, Vice President of Princeton Hydro in New Jersey, said it was his understanding that the project would be located in the Saxtons River Watershed.
"Wind projects, they look pretty benign from a distance, but they have an impact," said Goll. "Unlike some of these other projects that I've reviewed, there appears to be more streams at a higher elevation. The streams really go up to the headwaters of the Saxtons River and these are basically the very upper reaches of that river."
Headwaters are the streams that are at the upper end of a watershed, which serve as the source of clean water, Goll said.
As and example, the wind turbine project in Sheffield has towers that are 430 feet tall with blades that are 180 feet long. In order to build that project -- and others of a similar scale -- Goll said that access roads needed to be developed with a slope that was passable enough for cranes and trucks carrying the large equipment to get up there for construction and maintenance.
Once at the top of the mountain, Goll said that turbine pads had to be created that were about 1.5 acres in size, which is were the turbines were going to be located. They need to be flat in order to lift the components to build the turbines, which requires a lot of excavation work into the steep hillsides.
When the company constructing the project has to perform storm water treatment, Goll said that they "are not required to treat the water to the condition exactly how it is in the stream." He said that the performance standards for storm water features could be less than what they were in the stream.
"What you have to do is maintain what's called the use designation of that stream. So, if it's designated for a certain use, for example for ecological benefits that use has to be maintained," Goll said.
Due to the size of the projects, Goll said the company's usually tend to use alternative storm water controls the primary one being a storm water pond, which holds water and has a concrete structure. The concrete structure discharges some of the water and also meters it so that it does not increase, Goll said.
Another method is level spreaders, which fill up to a certain point and then spill over. However, Goll said there are a lot of differing opinions about whether or not level spreaders work as intended as far keeping the water quality clean.
During the question and answer portion of the forum, a member of the audience asserted that while wind energy is marketed as "green" energy, that claim is untrue given all of the petroleum that used to not only manufacture and move the equipment, but also because of all the explosives during the construction of the project. The man's statements were followed up with some comments by the moderator of the forum, Annette Smith.
"One interesting statistic we don't know exactly how many pounds of explosives we used up on the Lowell Mountains (a project talked about frequently throughout the night). Before the project started they estimated about 750,000 pounds, but we heard that there were some blasts that were 30,000 pounds so it's fair to guess that's how many pounds of explosives were used," said Smith. "For every million pounds of explosives used, 9,000 gallons of that is fuel. And that's fuel [that's going] into the earth. So that was something that puts it in a little bit of context for 21 turbines to use that much fuel oil."
Another issue raised by panelist Steve Wright -- who worked for the National Wildlife Federation for eight years; the last five as a climate change educator in the eastern United States -- was that unlike other sources of energy, the technology currently does not exist to store the energy generated by wind turbines for later use.
However, those statements were refuted by a member of the audience.
Another panelist, Bob McCafferty, who works for LandVest Inc. -- a company that specializes in high end homes and country estates -- spoke about the impact wind turbine projects have on the selling price of homes. He spoke about one property in Londonderry that included 40 acres and the home, which was 5,500 square feet. It had been valued at $2.2 million, but once they began telling prospective buyers about the possibility of a wind project on Glebe Mountain -- as they were required to by law -- interest in the property declined.
"We struggled. We showed the property not infrequently because it's extremely attractive and every time the subject came up the house became almost a dead issue," said McCafferty. "We kept reducing the price. The then owner said, 'We don't want to be in a race to the bottom. We need to move this.'"
McCafferty said they eventually found a buyer for the property, which sold for $1.25 million. McCafferty said there are multiple problems with wind farms -- such as the aesthetics and the noise associated with them.
"People don't come to Vermont to look at wind farms and they don't come to Vermont to hear a lot of noise. So, these are direct impacts on the values," McCafferty said.
Before the crowd departed for the night, Wright gave them one last message.
"Don't sit around wringing your hands. If you're going to do something, you've got a grand list. You know who the people are who own the real estate," he said. "You've got to start campaigning. You've got to do something locally. You've got to be proactive and if it's meaningful you can do something."