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Vermont governor decries approval of wind power project

Conditions set on modified plan by Newton firm

MONTPELIER -- Governor Jim Douglas said yesterday he was disappointed with the Public Service Board's approval a day earlier of a 16-turbine wind power project planned for the northeastern Vermont town of Sheffield.

"I don't think industrializing our ridge lines is the right thing to do for the natural beauty of our state," the governor said during a press conference.

"I don't think the modest amount of electricity that will be generated from wind turbines is worth the impairment of our ridge lines," Douglas said.

"But I also respect the law," and the quasi-judicial board's role under it in making determinations about utility projects, the governor said, though he added he expected the ruling might be appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court.

The governor's comments followed approval of the first utility-scale wind power project in Vermont in a decade and followed his own frequent comments in recent years taking a dim view of the size and scale of wind power projects along Vermont's mountaintops.

"I think wind turbines that are more than 400 feet tall are certainly industrial scale," the governor said. Other critics of the project had argued in board hearings that the 420-foot tall towers would create an unacceptable blight.

But the board found that the positives of the project, including the pollution-free nature of wind power, outweighed the negatives.

UPC Wind of Newton, Mass., had changed the configuration of a project originally slated for Sheffield and Sutton, limiting it to the former town, where local residents were more welcoming.

Reaction to the landmark decision continued to come in from both sides in the wind power debate.

Greg Bryant of the group Ridge Protectors, which opposed the project, said he also was disappointed with the board's decision, but was encouraged that the three-member regulatory panel attached 36 conditions to the permit for the project.

The conditions include limits on the noise the turbines can make, implementation of a wildlife management agreement with the state Agency of Natural Resources, requiring protections for towns affected by construction traffic, and establishment of a fund to pay for dismantling the project at the end of its useful life.

"The conditions set by this board will be difficult, if not impossible, for this company to meet," Bryant said in a statement.

"Noise levels, for example, in Mars Hill, Maine, UPC's only other New England project, already exceed the levels set by this board and fully funded decommissioning is expensive," his statement said.

Andrew Perchlik of the group Renewable Energy Vermont hailed the decision, which he said "opens the door for many more wind farms to be built in Vermont."

But he said he was concerned about the number and extent of the conditions the board attached to its certificate of public good, the formal name of the project permit, and the length of time, three years, that it took to get the project approved.