The Not-So-Green Mountains

by Steve E. Wright, New York Times
BULLDOZERS arrived a couple of weeks ago at the base of the nearby Lowell Mountains and began clawing their way through the forest to the ridgeline, where Green Mountain Power plans to erect 21 wind turbines, each rising to 459 feet from the ground to the tip of the blades.

This desecration, in the name of “green” energy, is taking place in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom on one of the largest tracts of private wild land in the state. Here and in other places — in Maine and off Cape Cod, for instance — the allure of wind power threatens to destroy environmentally sensitive landscapes.

Erecting those turbines along more than three miles of ridgeline requires building roads — with segments of the ridgeline road itself nearly half as wide as one of Vermont’s interstate highways — in places where the travel lanes are now made by bear, moose, bobcat and deer.

It requires changing the profile of the ridgeline to provide access to cranes and service vehicles. This is being accomplished with approximately 700,000 pounds of explosives that will reduce parts of the mountaintops to rubble that will be used to build the access roads.

It also requires the clear-cutting on steep slopes of 134 acres of healthy forest, now ablaze in autumn colors. Studies have shown that clear-cutting can lead to an increase in erosion to high-quality headwater streams, robbing them of life and fouling the water for downstream residents, wild and human.

The electricity generated by this project will not appreciably reduce Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions. Only 4 percent of those emissions now result from electricity generation. (Nearly half come from cars and trucks, and another third from the burning of heating oil.)

Wind doesn’t blow all the time, or at an optimum speed, so the actual output of the turbines — the “capacity factor” — is closer to about one-third of the rated capacity of 63 megawatts. At best, this project will produce enough electricity to power about 24,000 homes per year, according to the utility.

Still, wind does blow across Vermont’s ridgelines. The Vermont Public Interest Research Group, for instance, has suggested that wind power could provide as much as 25 percent of the state’s electricity needs, which would require turbines on 29 miles of ridgeline. Other wind advocates, notably David Blittersdorf, the chief executive of a wind and solar power company in Williston, Vt., has urged that wind turbines be placed along 200 miles of ridgeline in the state.

But it is those same Green Mountain ridgelines that attracted nearly 14 million visitors to Vermont in 2009, generating $1.4 billion in tourism spending. The mountains are integral to our identity as the Green Mountain State, and provide us with clean air and water and healthy wildlife populations.

Vermont’s proud history of leadership in developing innovative, effective environmental protection is being tossed aside. This project will set an ominous precedent by ripping apart a healthy, intact ecosystem in the guise of doing something about climate change. In return, Green Mountain Power will receive $44 million in federal production tax credits over 10 years.

Ironically, most of the state’s environmental groups have not taken a stand on this ecologically disastrous project. Apparently, they are unwilling to stand in the way of “green” energy development, no matter how much destruction it wreaks upon Vermont’s core asset: the landscape that has made us who we are.

The pursuit of large-scale, ridgeline wind power in Vermont represents a terrible error of vision and planning and a misunderstanding of what a responsible society must do to slow the warming of our planet. It also represents a profound failure to understand the value of our landscape to our souls and our economic future in Vermont.

Steve E. Wright, an aquatic biologist, is a former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department.

7 thoughts on “The Not-So-Green Mountains

  1. Urbanites and townies have little or no appreciation for rural matters and the affects that IWTs can have on the environment and the health of persons living in proximity to those turbines.

    Developers appear as heros because they generate needed electricity to run the entertaining little gadgets the “civilized” society needs to cope in today’s high stress world. Rural land is cheap relative to urban land. Land is but a necessary commodity in the construction of IWTs

    Politicians aiming to please/placate their citizens currently provide incentives for the developers to produce that electricity. The vast majority of citizens don’t see those IWTs every day. Rural citizens do. Politicians need to appear to advocate green technologies in order to get re-elected.

    Perhaps we should encourage the politicians to provide those incentives to developers to set up their IWTs within the confines of the communitiues that desperately want that electricity. It wouldn’t take long for the citizens to quickly get “sick” and tired of those IWTs.

    No genuine research has been conducted by truly independent investigators on the feasibility of IWTs from both an environmental and a health perspective. Such studies are expensive. However, our political leaders need to step up to the plate. If we can spend millions providing subsidies, we can afford the research. If we are going to utilizer IWTs as part of a green initiative, then they must be built and maintained within environmentally sound regulations. Do not let the developers set the standards.

    Going green is important for our environment. No one would deny that fact. However, you don’t advocate for a technology that is “green” without ensuring that it has no negative environmental impact in other areas of our ecosystem. Modern society should not endorse a philosophy of installing new technologies that benefit the most populous ares while causing damage in areas where it won’t be noticed much except by those few who have the misfortune to live there.

    • Because governments and private venture capitalists do not have enough money to build/install wind and solar projects around the world including here it will be necessary to use insurance and pension fund money. Will the people who want to use their insurance premiums and pension funds please step forward so we can see how many people are willing to finance these useless projects with their own money?

      • Too many Ontarians think that the money to build these useless renewable “green” energy projects will drop like manna from heaven so this “green” energy folly isn’t going to cost them anything.

  2. For over twenty five years, the wind power lobbyists, wind power developers and politicians have promoted wind power as clean and green. The only thing green in this equation is the color of money, not clean air or real energy. Federal subsidies to the wind power developers has got to be cut. Stop the flow of tax payers money to these companies and you will see a halt to chopping down trees to put up useless towers with non biodegradable blades. Spain learned the hard way and they stopped the subsidies. Now Spanish companies, like Iberdrola, are receiving millions from the US Feds to carve up US landscape for wind farms. Go to my website to see Episodes of ‘They’re Not Green’ .

  3. Pictures and the information needs to get out to everyone in every town. It’s not so much that people favor this – it’s basically people don’t really have a clue what’s going on. There are no reports other than probably locally. We need as good PR people as the wind company has. I think the saddest thing is what they (wind companies) are doing to the mountains. Let’s see trees are good for getting rid of “bad carbon” and we’re clear cutting trees. We’re letting wind companies do what we’d never think of letting a coal company do. Shameful!

  4. The madness has to stop. This article is just another disgusting portrayal of the true nastiness that is industrial wind generation.

    At this point it’s obvious. We don’t need to save ourselves from the “sham” that is climate change…we need to save ourselves from the “sham” that is the green monster. Gaizilla?

    Wake up folks.

  5. I totally agree! GreeD Energy! Those who do not live near them think they are ‘cool’. Those who are set to gain financially from them condescendlingly belittle the people who will have to live with them, calling us “NIMBY-ers”. They all deny health issues – even to the point of covering up complaints to the MOE! Disgusting is only the start of it! Something has to be done to stop it, before it is too late. We can protest, but it has to be something financially damaging to them to make them sit up and listen – if there was no money in IWT’s they would have no interest whatsoever.

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