Whitworth: Send the wind developers packing


The more Vermonters learn about industrial wind turbines, the more their opposition grows. This is illustrated perfectly by the experience of the Northeast Kingdom Development Association.

The NVDA is the regional planning commission for Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. In 2005 its regional energy plan said, "As a statement of policy, NVDA supports the construction of wind towers ... Wind towers should be seen as beneficial to the region."

Just 10 years later, after the Sheffield and Lowell turbines had begun operation, the NVDA's board of directors accepted a study committee's finding that the benefits of wind were dubious and did not outweigh the substantial negatives. The board, made up of the Kingdom's legislative, business and civic leaders, unanimously approved a statement that concluded, "It is the position of the NVDA that no further development of industrial wind energy complexes should take place in the Northeast Kingdom."

What have informed Vermonters learned about industrial wind turbines since 2005?

Are turbines combating climate change? No. Even the architects of Governor Shumlin's wind energy policies have acknowledged that the policies will have no effect on climate change. In fact, wind development is degrading our natural defenses against the impacts of climate change by fragmenting wildlife habitat (thereby inhibiting many species' climate adaptation and accelerating extinctions) and paving our ridgelines (increasing the vulnerability of our communities, farms, businesses, and roads to flooding from severe weather events).

Do turbines reduce greenhouse gas emissions? According to Green Mountain Power, the Lowell turbines avoid 74,000 tons of CO2 emissions over the course of a year. Does that sound like a lot? It's not — it's the amount of carbon that New York City traffic produces in less than half a day. And for that, Peter Shumlin allowed GMP to pave a mountain and fragment an irreplaceable forest (burning untold amounts of fossil fuels in the process).

According the Department of Energy, Vermont's per capita carbon emissions are third lowest in the country — about one thirteenth of Wyoming's. A 10 percent reduction in Wyoming's emissions would be easier, less expensive, and have more impact on global emissions than a ten percent reduction here. Yet wind developers are telling us that "we must all do our part" and "our part" involves sacrificing Vermont's mountains.

Does wind create hundreds of jobs for Vermonters? No. Not even if you count the Burlington lawyers, Montpelier lobbyists, legislators, and government bureaucrats who work (or seem to work) for the wind companies.

Building a wind project provides some temporary local employment, but the good jobs go to specialists who travel across the country, from project to project like a traveling medicine show.

Remember the guy who tipped his truck over while driving a piece of a wind tower from Island Pond to Lowell? He was a specialist from Texas. Remember the crane operator who rescued him? He was a specialist from Massachusetts. Millie, the waitress that served them lunch? She is from Vermont. She said they were lousy tippers. You want to bet that Millie is counted among Governor Shumlin's "thousands of clean energy workers?"

As the turbines age and breakdowns become more frequent, Vermonters will see more visits from these out-of-state specialists. Millie will see more bad tips.

Do wind turbines affect the health of neighbors? The Vermont Department of Health acknowledges that turbines make noise, noise can disturb sleep, and disturbed sleep can cause depression as well as cardiovascular, respiratory, and musculoskeletal problems. But, the Department of Health has been unable to connect the dots between turbine operations and the sick neighbors around each of Vermont's three Big Wind facilities.

Turbines produce three types of noise that can annoy neighbors, disturb their sleep, and make them sick: audible noise, low-frequency noise (low rumbling that is felt as well as heard), and infrasound (that can affect people who are prone to motion sickness).

Are turbines noisy? Absolutely. The Public Service Department has found that two of Vermont's big wind facilities have exceeded their audible noise limits. They are investigating the third for reported violations. Upon visiting a Georgia Mountain turbine neighbor's home, Vermont Senator Brian Campion "found the sound made by the turbines as too loud." Vermont has no limits on low-frequency noise or infrasound.

Vermont's wind operators brag that noise complaints have dropped off. The turbines have not gotten quieter — the neighbors don't bother to complain anymore because the complaint processes are cumbersome and neither the wind companies nor the state ever take meaningful corrective action.

Do wind turbines lower property values? The listers in Barton and Georgia think so: Barton lowered the assessed values of homes that have a view of the Sheffield turbines and Georgia lowered assessments for homes that are affected by noise from Georgia Mountain.

Does wind reduce our use of fossil fuels? No. Wind is intermittent and requires a back-up; in New England natural gas is used as the backup. Continued wind development will extend our commitment to gas-fired electricity generation well into the future.

Won't we need wind to power our electric vehicles? No. How many electric vehicles do see on Vermont roads? They are not yet suitable for use here. The turbines at Sheffield and Lowell will be headed for the scrap heap before electric cars and pickup trucks are in widespread use in Vermont. Far less destructive options than wind will be available then.

Don't we need more wind to meet our statutory energy goals? No. We can meet our renewable energy goals with hydro and well-sited solar. And don't forget, the turbines we have now aren't even contributing to our goals — Vermont wind renewable energy credits are being sold so that Massachusetts and Connecticut can meet their goals.

Are wind developers altruists who are fighting to save the planet? No. They are sanctimonious poseurs who are getting rich by selling snake-oil that worsens the disease. They are proposing destructive projects that Vermont towns don't want and Vermont's utilities don't need. It is time to send them packing.

Mark Whitworth is president of Energize Vermont, a statewide non-profit organization that promotes sensible energy policies for Vermont. Whitworth also serves on the Newark Planning Commission, the board of the Vermont Clean Energy Development Fund, and the NVDA's Executive Committee. Whitworth was a member of the NVDA's Wind Study Committee. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.


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