Wind project breaks ground Monday in Searsburg


SEARSBURG >> The first industrial wind project on national forest land will break ground next week.

A developer, Avangrid Renewables, formerly known as Iberdrola, wants to build 15 industrial wind turbines in Searsburg and Readsboro.

The state's Public Service Board approved a conservation plan for the Deerfield Wind project last month. It amends a certificate of public good granted in 2009.

A groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for Monday morning will be attended by Gov. Peter Shumlin.

Representatives for Avangrid and a blasting contractor were scheduled to appear at a Searsburg Select Board meeting on Friday at 7 p.m.

Proponents have trumpeted the need for clean energy and say the project is necessary to reduce the state's reliance on fossil fuels. And the developer says the 30-megawatt project will produce enough energy each year to power 14,000 Vermont homes.

Opponents have criticized the project and public officials who supported it. "It's entirely built on political corruption from the top down," Annette Smith, executive director for Vermonters for a Clean Environment, told the Banner on Friday.

Smith said the project will degrade the natural environment by impacting scenic views, negatively affecting wildlife and sets a bad precedent.

VCE filed a lawsuit against the Forest Service in 2012. It argued the noise and aesthetic of the project would destroy the wilderness character of the area. But a judge dismissed the suit in 2014.

Smith criticized the entire process and said the regulatory process is corrupt.

"What is our governor doing? He's stonewalling us," Smith said.

The groundbreaking ceremony, to be held off of Route 8 in Searsburg on Monday at 11 a.m., will be open to "invited guests and members of the media," according to a media announcement.

Avangrid wants to build 15, 2mw turbines, each about 500-feet-tall, on 80 acres of the Green Mountain National Forest, on a ridge separating Searsburg and Readsboro. Eight will be sited on the west side of Route 8, and another seven on the east side of Route 8, on the same ridgeline as Green Mountain Power's existing wind facility. That 6mw project, with 11 turbines that each top out at 197-feet, was built in 1996.

Avangrid and Green Mountain Power filed for a power purchase agreement with the state's Public Service Board for the 15 new turbines.

Avangrid formed from a merger with Iberdrola, a Spanish energy company, and UIL Holdings Corporation in 2015. Avangrid also wants to build 28 wind turbines in Grafton and Windham.

A spokesperson for Avangrid did not return a request for comment.

The Forest Service on Sept. 8 issued a closure order where roads and wind turbines will be constructed. The order, signed by John Sinclair, forest supervisor for the The Green Mountain & Finger Lakes National Forests,

The order "has been put into place to ensure the protection of property and the health and safety of the general public," according to a Forest Service news release issued Friday. "The area will remain open to any Federal, State, or local officer, or member of any organized rescue or firefighting force in the performance of an official duty."

The certificate of public good was granted with conditions and amended last month. Avangrid must pay $1 million for land purchases, and a study on black bears.

The multi-year black bear study is underway, according to Ethan Ready, public affairs officer for the U.S. Forest Service.

"The bear study will proceed throughout construction and for a period of five years post construction to better understand what the impacts, if any, were to black bear in the project area," Ready wrote in an email on Friday.

According to Ready, in accordance with the CPG, the state Agency of Natural Resources is taking the lead on the study. The pre-construction and implementation part of the study began in September of 2011.

A four-person oversight panel, which includes representatives from the Forest Service and United States Fish and Wildlife Service, "are participating as needed," according to Ready.

Contact Ed Damon at 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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