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    Where's the responsibility in so-called 'responsiblysited' wind projects?


    August 5, 2022 - Brattleboro Reformer

     

      COMMENTARY

      BY CANDY MOOT Renewable Energy Vermont (REV) is promoting more wind energy to be built in Vermont. They are calling for "responsibly- sited wind projects." What does that mean?

      When residents of Morgan learned that industrial wind developer David Blittersdorf bought land on a ridgeline overlooking Seymour Lake, some of us wanted to learn more about what happened in other areas of the state where wind projects were built.

      The obvious place we looked first was David Blittersdorf's Georgia Mountain industrial wind project, which has four 2.5 MW Goldwind (made in China) wind turbines. We learned that during construction, Blittersdorf's contractors threw flyrock onto neighboring property, neighbors he sued to keep them off their own land during construction. An investigation found that "in some instances it [the flyrock] appeared large enough to "possibly cause severe injury." Blasting on a state holiday in violation of the Certificate of Public Good and the dangerous flyrock, which Blittersdorf's project manager denied to the press happened, resulted in the Public Service Board accepting a settlement agreement with the neighbors, plus a $10,000 fine.

      That was just the beginning of the fines. Neighbors complained numerous times about unbearable noise that kept them from sleeping, caused headaches and disrupted their lives. The noise was especially bad when the blades had ice on them. Three times, the Public Service Board fined Blittersdorf for running the wind turbines under icing conditions: $2,500 for a March 11, 2016 violation; $5,000 for a March 14, 2016 violation; and $10,000 for a January 3, 2017 violation.

      Due to his irresponsible operation of the Georgia Mountain industrial wind turbines, David Blittersdorf earned the project a new winter operating protocol. Then, five years after it began producing power, he sold it to new owners, an investment business called Greenbacker Capital.

      The new owners have operated the Georgia Mountain wind turbines in compliance with the much more restrictive winter operating protocol. They worked with the neighbors to update it to make it less restrictive, and have treated the neighbors more respectfully. Instead of calling them "crazy," as Blittersdorf did when they complained about the unbearable noise, the current owners are interested in what the neighbors are experiencing.

      This doesn't mean the noise isn't a problem, or that the shadow flicker is not incredibly annoying.

      It also doesn't mean that the money is staying in Vermont, which is one of the claims the renewable energy industry makes when they point out how much money leaves Vermont for fossil fuel energy. Investment bankers turn out to be a major beneficiary of big wind and solar built in Vermont.

      Turning elsewhere, maybe other wind projects in Vermont are "responsibly-sited." We now know that Sheffield Wind and Lowell Wind were built in an area that doesn't have the grid to support it, so they are regularly curtailed. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to free up that electricity. Doesn't sound like responsible siting, does it?

      The story of the Therrien family living near the Sheffield industrial wind project is painful to recount. A couple with two small children got increasingly sick, couldn't sleep, experienced nausea that comes from infrasound produced by the wind turbines. It got so bad they had to abandon their home.

      On the other side of the mountain were the Brouhas, who sued Sheffield Wind. Who is Sheffield Wind? It was UPC Wind, then First Wind, then SunEdison spun it off to a yieldco, and the current owner is Brookfield - yes, another out-of state investment bank, with over $725 billion in assets under management globally. In its settlement agreement, Brookfield agreed to changes in project operations and expressed "sincere regret" - the only time any wind developer has acknowledged causing harm to people in Vermont.

      Green Mountain Power's Lowell Wind project is another sad story about destruction of an intact ecosystem that is filling up with invasive species requiring the use of many gallons of herbicides. Canadian Energir-owned GMP sued its neighbor, the Nelsons, to keep them off their own land and eventually purchased the property from the Nelsons. Their settlement agreement included a gag order so the Nelsons can't talk about their experiences.

      Spanish Iberdrola's Deerfield Wind fragmented the finest bear habitat in Vermont. Visitors to the George D. Aiken Wilderness area can now experience "the hands of man" from numerous areas in the wilderness where the spinning turbine blades are visible.

      The key word is "responsible." No wind developer or owner has taken any responsibility for the damage caused. Instead, they deny there are any problems. If what we have seen in Vermont is REV's definition of "responsibly-sited wind projects," we do not need any more of that. No thank you.

      Candy Moot writes from Morgan, in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of Vermont News & Media.

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