Draft policy looks at wind projects on public lands

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(Host) A state review has raised questions about whether private wind energy development is appropriate for public lands.

VPR’s John Dillon has more:

(Dillon) Vermont has seen a surge in wind energy. A half-dozen projects with dozens of wind turbines over 300 feet high are proposed for ridgelines around the state.

Officials at the Natural Resources Agency are in the early stages of drafting a policy for wind energy development on state property. The review was prompted by a California company’s plan to put wind testing towers on two state-owned mountains in the Northeast Kingdom. Mike Fraysier is state lands director for the Agency of Natural Resources:

(Fraysier) “At this point we’re not in a position where we could allow for any type of wind energy development, even preliminary testing with wind monitoring towers, until we have we have a clear agency policy in place.”

(Dillon) The policy is important because the public owns many of the windiest spots desired by energy developers. Two-thirds of the land above 2,500 in Vermont is publicly owned, or it’s protected through conservation agreements. Fraysier says most of the concern about wind power has been over aesthetics – how the large towers would look on a pristine ridgeline.

(Fraysier) “There’s environment impacts as well, from wildlife and habitat concerns, to water quality issues, forest fragmentation. There’s a whole host of issues that really haven’t been sorted out yet by the agency.”

(Dillon) An internal state document begins to sort out the issues. It says the turbines should not be built on many state lands. The document notes that deed restrictions on some of the land prohibit commercial development. The draft policy paper says wind power may be clean, but that it still affects land and wildlife. It cites studies from other states on birds killed by turbine blades. The document also says wind development could limit public access, since ice thrown by turbine blades could harm hikers. It says the public would have to be kept away in the winter.

Fraysier says the document is a very preliminary draft. He says state officials will meet this week to work on the policy. John Zimmerman is a wind energy consultant who has met with the state on several wind power proposals. He says some state land – such as the summit of Camel’s Hump – clearly should be off limits. But he says other property is suitable for development.

(Zimmerman) “What the state’s looking at doing right now is trying to establish some measures by which they can assess the suitability of wind energy development on different classifications of state land. From a developer’s perspective, that’s good.”

(Dillon) The draft document on wind development on state lands is clearly a work in progress. But for now, it says the only sites where wind projects should be considered are those that are already developed – such as ski areas.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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