Wind: 3 mph
By Gregory and Carolynn Schipa
This letter was sent to the Warren Select Board.
The majority of taxpayers in the Mad River Valley and the town of Warren, in particular, seem to appreciate the potentially devastating effect of increasing climate change and the necessity of a move to more aggressive energy conservation and efficiency and increased renewable energy sources.
With that in mind, the Warren Planning Commission has worked hard over the last many months to further an agenda of increased wind-produced energy by "updating" the Town Plan to make it more receptive to both net-metered and off-grid wind turbines of increased size primarily on our ridges. The Warren Town Plan is presently receptive only to "small scale wind generation" (undefined), carefully sited, and much work in the past has gone specifically into wording to protect the Forest Reserve District – our signature wild slopes and ridges. (Warren Town Plan Objective 10.3,10:6, "protect environmental and scenic resources"; Warren Zoning District Standards – Table 2.1 (F) 3. Placement of Structures.)
Attending many of the Warren Planning Commission meetings and reading the very generalized minutes would seem to show that the planning commission is making a few assumptions that very possibly may not be correct:
• that "updating" the Town Plan includes a mandate to change the town's wind
tower/turbine policy and the protection afforded the Forest Reserve District;
• that the recent very carefully rewritten Waitsfield Town Plan wind policy and
community standards banning turbine placement above 1,700 feet are
irrelevant to the Warren discussion and will not affect wind turbine siting by the Public Service Board;
• that nothing added to the Warren Town Plan wording that resists commercial scale net-metered wind towers will affect PSB placement or wind industry
consideration; ("Opposition of the community played into Iberdrola's decision to drop plans for Grafton." Digital VPR.)
• that changing Warren town policy as to wind tower scale, appropriateness and
placement is a matter of changing the definition of small, moderate and commercial scale wind;
• that discussion of negative visual, health, environmental and economic impacts
is not part of the present Town Plan conversation.
It would therefore seem essential for the public good that the Warren Select Board, whom we assume must approve new Town Plan wording, as representatives of the people, avoid making a decision on this very divisive and hugely impactful issue without careful consideration and significant study of the following issues (which have not been discussed by the Planning Commission):
The economic viability of Warren and The Valley is greatly dependent on the signature beauty of its wild and natural ridges and the many visitors it attracts; the tourist industry will be immediately affected by wind turbine towers down scarred ridges, visible for 20 miles and more; the night sky will be greatly affected as well, by flashing industrial turbines (WTP Objective 10.2F).
Over 60 percent of Warren taxpayers are second-home owners, who invest here because of that wild beauty and quiet (but cannot vote). Property values will drop as a direct result of tower construction, or even the proposal to allow it, (Illinois studies show a drop of 20 to 40 percent within two miles of the towers); when some homeowners start to sue for tax relief, a town can lose up to a third of their grand list (VT state Senator Peter Galbraith); some homeowners will not be able to sell at all (listers are a new factor in wind siting decisions: "annoying sound does indeed diminish property values" – Burlington Free Press).
Health issues are a rapidly growing concern wherever wind turbines are installed; infrasound has been identified by Harvard, Princeton and Johns Hopkins doctors as the cause of "wind turbine syndrome," causing tinnitus, dizziness, sleeplessness, nausea and many health disorders. (WTP Objective 10.2E) (A Massachusetts judge has ordered the "moderate sized" Falmouth turbine installation reduced, due to health issues in surrounding families. Vt. Digger)
Divisiveness, litigation and legal expenses are rapidly escalating in many towns near existing and proposed wind installation. (Newark, VT, is up to $50,000 defending the town. Vermonters for a Clean Environment.) Town roads are also damaged by heavy equipment.
Habitat destruction and fragmentation, wildlife impact, storm water runoff and silting – animals are driven from the ridges, birds and bats are killed in the thousands, blasting changes hydrology, runoff, and silting; clearing and safety fences and posting block the ridge passage for wildlife. (WTP Objective 10.2F) (Sue Morse, wildlife biologist)
The Warren Planning Commission has posted the Distributed Wind Energy Association (an industry group) model zoning ordinance for "small wind turbines" on the top of its website, which clearly states "no limitation on system height," or land covered, among other things, and their proposed new wording mirrors this. They have been outspoken proponents of "moderate scale" turbine/towers, without identifying any height restriction, and have argued they could possibly be allowed inevery district, with very minor setbacks. "Moderate" scale turbines, however, such as the Northern Power Systems 100 (at 150 feet tall) have been having serious problems with infrasound and health issues in Vergennes, Burke Mountain, and Cape Cod (VCE). The issue is not what the utility scale towers are called but their effect on Warren and the Mad River Valley.
The Warren Planning Commission is proposing a change to the Town Plan, with virtually no public input (public input was allowed for only 15 minutesbefore each meeting, and no drafts of proposed language changes were made available over the last year), with the potential for perhaps the greatest impact on the town and Valley in its history. It is a proposal to compromise our unquestioned prime resource, the basis of our economic viability, and the heritage of future generations – our unspoiled Green Mountains – for a small, unreliable, inconsistent energy resource with a huge, long lasting, environmental price. Utility scale, industrial scale, or the vague "moderate scale," the discussion involves a permanent change to life in the Mad River Valley. The effort should be spent instead on viable, well-sited, residential-scale solar, energy efficiency in both homes and transportation, and coordination with Waitsfield and Valley towns to protect our resources. We need to move toward energy solutions in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont.
I would like to very respectfully suggest the select board take a careful look at this proposed change. If it is to be approved, all taxpayers should have a vote in the matter, as in other parts of the state.
Gregory and Carolynn Schipa