By Michael Bielawski
The 28-turbine Stiles Brook Wind Project proposed by Spanish company Iberdrola Renewables, were it to go forward, would not only be the largest in the state but also the most intrusive.
Lynn Barrett, spokesperson for the Grafton Woodlands Group, told Watchdog that there are 94 homes in Windham and nine in Grafton between a half and one mile of at least one of the proposed 500-foot turbines. She added that over 50 percent of Windham’s homes, or 235 homes, would be within 1.5 miles. In Grafton, 22 dwellings would be within 1.25 miles.
Graphs that Barrett provided to Watchdog seem to indicate that’s roughly four or five times the number of homes with a similar range at existing mega-turbine projects in Sheffield and Lowell.
In extreme cases, as in Sheffield, families within one mile of a turbine project have had to leave their homes due to extensive noise and vibration disturbances.
On Election Day, legal residents of Windham will hold a nonbinding vote on whether to accept or reject the Stiles Brook Wind Project. Iberdrola leaders say they will respect the will of the townspeople, however they have limited the vote to full-time residents, not part-time second-home owners.
According to Barrett, 60 percent of all tax revenue for Windham comes from second-home owners. Despite their integral role in the local economy, Iberdrola has insisted that only registered voters — meaning permanent residents — be allowed to participate in Windham’s Nov. 8 vote.
One such second-home couple is Pete and Becky Ruegger. In 1988 they bought their property in Grafton, and built a house on it in 1993. The home is within 1.5 miles of the nearest proposed turbines.
“We have made a very big investment, and we expect our property value to just plummet,” Pete Ruegger told Watchdog. “We are there because of the natural beauty and the aesthetics … and certainly the noise, if we find it bothersome, we would leave. We would probably leave at a huge loss.”
He said he expects the construction to destroy local ridgelines.
“You can imagine how much the road work and the construction is to create the bases for these 500-foot towers. It will essentially denude the ridgelines, which are the headwaters for all the streams that run throughout Grafton and Windham.”
Ruegger’s other concerns include the flashing tower lights at night to warn nearby airplanes, the killing of birds and other environmental and quality-of-life issues.
Liisa Kissel has been a permanent resident in Grafton for several years, and she was a second-home owner before that. Her home is within about 2.5 miles of the nearest proposed turbines.
“There’s very little study (and) very little understanding about how sound travels in the kind of topography that we have here,” she said of the projects’s potential noise pollution.
She said she also is concerned about the watershed.
“We are here on the Saxtons River, which is historically an extremely flood-prone river as is,” she said. “We were completely washed out in (Tropical Storm) Irene; our town had $5 million worth of damage.”
She said she has experienced several other major floods in Grafton over the years, so she’s wary of how a new major construction might make flooding worse.
“Building this facility on top of the headwaters of the Saxtons River to us appears very dangerous. Creating those kinds of impervious surfaces that will then prevent the kind of natural sponging effect that the forest otherwise would have.”
Like Ruegger, Kissel also frets over the value of her property.
“We are very worried about property value because we know what has happened in so many places,” she said. “Property values will decline and many properties will become unsaleable. Who wants to buy a house under a power plant?”
Regarding the controversial project’s impact on the upcoming gubernatorial election, both Kissel and Ruegger said that the issue is pushing voters towards Republican Phil Scott, who is calling for a moratorium on wind power projects in Vermont. Democrat Sue Minter has come out strongly for Big Wind and opposes letting towns have veto power over controversial renewable energy projects.
“This is locally the biggest issue that we care about,” Kissel said. “This is so important that a lot of people have already said they will vote differently than they would have previously voted, choosing their representative from another party they might not have otherwise voted for.”
Ruegger echoed that sentiment.
“My understanding is that Minter is very much pro-alternative energy, consequences be damned,” he said. “I’ve been told that Scott is for a moratorium on ridgeline wind, so it’s pretty clear if you are concerned about ridgeline wind who your candidate should be.”
– Michael Bielawski, from Watchdog.org