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Experts discuss importance of Town Plan in regulating ridgeline wind

By Rachel Goff

"Ridgeline wind power is not a significant energy resource for [this] region. It just isn't," said Ben Luce, associate professor at Lyndon State College, addressing the crowd that gathered in Moretown Town Hall on Thursday, May 8, for a public forum about industrial wind development in rural communities.

Luce opened the forum with a presentation comparing the impacts associated with turbines—whose installation and operation alter an area's topography, hydrology, aesthetics and ability to support wildlife—to their energy output in Vermont, which is not much.

Despite the drastic lack of wind resources in the Northeast when compared to those in the Midwest, developers are pushing to install turbines on Vermont's ridgelines and have succeeded in places such as Lowell Mountain in northern Vermont.

One of the reasons developers were able to receive approval from the state's Public Service Board (PSB) for the project had a lot to do with Lowell's Town Plan, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) Annette Smith said during the forum's panel discussion. According to Smith, Lowell's Town Plan stated it wanted to protect the scenic ridgeline but contradicted itself when it also said it supported renewable energy.

Right now, Moretown is in the process of revising its own Town Plan and Smith urged the community to work together to make the language as specific as possible. When one resident asked how Moretown could prohibit ridgeline wind power while still supporting renewable energy, Smith said the town needed to make qualifications.

The renewable energy industry has lobbied for policies that make it easy for developers to push forward with ridgeline wind power, Luce explained. "What we have right now is basically an open door policy," he said, and power companies are driven by economics rather than the environment. "They make a lot of short-term money off these projects," Luce said, when in the long term it's the members of neighboring communities that experience the turbines' effects.

But communities do have a say in the matter, Smith explained. "The Town Plan is really your voice in regulatory proceedings," she said, and "it's vague statements that the board does not find helpful and that we've seen work against towns.... Even if you are very much in favor of [developing wind power], you still need to craft your Town Plan language in a way that tells the Public Service Board how it is you want to go about it."

According to another panelist, Steve Wright, who is a member of the nonprofit organization Ridgeprotectors, whether or not residents are in in favor of developing wind power, "I assume you're interested in protecting the character and function of this landscape," he said, and that needs to be made clear to the state.

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