READSBORO, VT (AP) Two ridge lines in the southern Green Mountain National Forest soon could sprout 370-ft. tall wind power generators if the U.S. Forest Service approves what would be the first wind energy project on its lands anywhere in the country.
Deerfield Wind LLC has proposed up to 30 of the towers in a special-use application to the Forest Service. The review is expected to take up to 18 months.
Environmental groups have strongly opposed moves to open more federal lands to people who want to extract energy from them, whether oil, natural gas or coal. But wind energy, a relatively benign and pollution-free way to make electricity, is a different story.
“We’re not against wind power. We think that renewable energy is a promising and useful thing,” said Richard Andrews, of the group Green Mountain Forest Watch. He said his group has yet to take a position on the Deerfield Wind proposal.
Andrews said, though, that his group would prefer to see wind power projects on private rather than public land. Proposals for several such projects elsewhere in Vermont are in various stages of regulatory review.
And there are other, more site-specific worries.
“Bear use has been a concern,” said Gina Owens, district ranger for the U.S. Forest Service. Other issues need study, she said, including “understanding the migratory paths of migratory birds, understanding how bats use the area.”
“It’s very interesting,” Owens said of her role as the chief local Forest Service official in the place where the agency is considering its first wind power proposal. “We’re going to be the wind experts in the Forest Service no matter what happens.
“The Forest Service doesn’t have well developed protocols on wind power development,” she said, but added that it is borrowing guidance from the federal Bureau of Land Management, which has dealt with wind power proposals in the past.
John Zimmerman said he thinks the site of his company’s proposed project is close to ideal. The National Forest ridges where Deerfield Wind LLC wants to build its wind towers are like bookends to a privately owned tract where nearly a decade ago a Vermont power company built the first utility-scale wind project east of the Mississippi.
Green Mountain Power Corp.’s (GMP) 11 towers — a bit more than half as tall as the ones proposed — have been well received by area residents, Zimmerman said. “The expansion we hope will be received just as favorably as the original project.”
He added that the site’s proximity to Vermont Route 8 and to roads and power lines supporting the GMP project are plusses.
On a hot, calm afternoon recently, there was just enough wind — the threshold is 10 mph — to get the GMP site’s 2-ton, 64-ft. long, fiberglass blades, painted black to shed ice in winter, turning enough to make electricity.
Martha Staskus, Zimmerman’s co-worker at Vermont Environmental Research Associates, with which Deerfield Wind is affiliated, stood atop Searsburg Mountain, the blades of tower No. 1 rhythmically casting a shadow that seemed to pulse across her face, and said the GMP project remains a favorite spot for school and other groups to visit.
The company consulted with GMP on the construction of the original project. “It’s been eight years and we’re still responding to people who want to come and see it,” Staskus said.
People from around the region, often concerned about proposals for wind power projects in their areas, are among those who come to visit. “It’s the only reference point,” Zimmerman said.
Staskus added, “It’s amazing to see people come in and say, ’Ah, that’s not so bad.’”
Owens said the jury is still out.
The Forest Service’s strategic plan says wind power “can fit within the context of forest lands. But does it fit on that particular ridge in the Green Mountain National Forest? That’s the question we’re going to be working hard on in the next couple of years.”