Lowell wind project nears completion amid noise complaints

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The Lowell Mountain wind towers as seen from Irish Hill. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Chris Braithwaite

copyright the Chronicle 11-28-2012

LOWELL — All 21 turbines of the Kingdom Community Wind project have generated power, a spokesman for Green Mountain Power said Tuesday.  And with the project making power, it has beaten the December 31 deadline to qualify for federal production tax credits that should total between $40-million and $48-million over the next ten years, said the spokesman, Dorothy Schnure.

She emphasized that “every penny” of the tax credits “goes to lower the cost of power for our customers.”

Ms. Schnure stopped short of saying the project is complete.  “We still have some fine tuning work to do on them,” she said of the turbines.

Meanwhile complaints about noise continue to be heard from the project’s neighbors.  And the distances the turbines’ sound can travel continues to surprise people.

Mary Davis, who lives about four miles east in Albany, across the valley of the Black River and a little east of Page Pond, said she heard them early Monday morning.

“I was taking the old dog out for a three o’clock stroll,” Ms. Davis said.  “She’s almost 15, and when she’s got to go, she’s got to go.”

Ms. Davis found the sound novel, but hard to describe.  “It was just something different,” she said.

“It must be awful” for the project’s close neighbors, Ms. Davis commented, “if you can hear it this far back.”

On the other side of Lowell Mountain, on the Farm Road, one such neighbor arrived home from his overseas job late last week.

“At approximately 3 on the morning of November 25 I along with four of my house guests were woken by thumping noise that lasted for over two hours coming from the wind turbines behind my home,” Kevin McGrath wrote in an e-mail to Susan Paruch, a consumer affairs specialist at the state Department of Public Service.

“The noise was similar to a heavy object rotating in a clothes dryer,” Mr. McGrath wrote.  “Later on that morning at about 10 the noise levels penetrated my home and sounded like a waterfall gushing directly behind my home.”

Mr. McGrath lives in one of about 50 structures that sit inside a “1.5 mile buffer” drawn around the project by RSG, Inc., the White River Junction firm that drafted the final sound monitoring protocol for Green Mountain Power.  His home is also one of about 19 structures within a smaller zone where, RSG estimates, turbine sound will reach between 40 and 45 decibels outside the home.

In granting the project a certificate of public good, the state Public Service Board set sound limits at 45 decibels outside neighboring homes, and 30 decibels in their bedrooms.

The extended family of Don and Shirley Nelson celebrated Thanksgiving in their farmhouse, which also sits well inside the 40-to-45-decibel zone.

Among the 19 people present, Mr. Nelson said Monday, two suffered migraine headaches, and some thought their ears were going to pop.  “Some of their stomachs didn’t feel right,” Mr. Nelson said, “and I don’t think it was Shirley’s cooking.”

“Shirley can hear it in the house,” he said of the turbine sound.  “Her ears are ringing all the time now.  They never did before.  If we go away two or three hours, it stops.”

Mr. Nelson, who was one of the migraine sufferers, said it’s impossible to know what causes such a headache.  He added that he expects complaints from his household to be discounted by Green Mountain Power and state officials, because the couple has fought to stop the project since it was proposed.

At Green Mountain Power, Ms. Schnure said the utility has received two more noise complaints since a particularly noisy weekend surprised many Albany residents in early November.  Both of the recent complaints came from hunters, she said.

“If people have concerns about undue noise they should talk to us,” Ms. Schnure said.

The Public Service Board imposed strict noise limits on the project, she said, “and we will meet those standards.”

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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Brighton selectmen poll voters and taxpayers on industrial wind

Wind towers on Lowell Mountain, as seen from Irish Hill Road. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle 11-21-2012

ISLAND POND — Within the next few days every registered voter and property taxpayer in the town of Brighton can expect to receive a ballot in the mail.  That ballot asks the recipient whether or not they favor, oppose or remain undecided on the issue of industrial wind projects on ridgelines within the town.  Though the results of the balloting are non-binding, the town’s selectmen agreed that they would support the majority decision expressed by respondents.

The ballots were mailed on Tuesday and must be postmarked no later than December 7 to be included in the voting.  The selectmen agreed to wait a few extra days for any wayward ballots but only those mailed on or before the due date will be eligible for consideration.

Ensuring the integrity of the balloting process was paramount, chairman of the selectmen Melinda Gervais said.  Each envelope provided with the ballot contains the return address of the recipient allowing town officers to check off the voter or taxpayer.

The ballot within will be kept folded before being secured in a locked ballot box stored in the vault in the basement of the municipal office, Ms. Gervais said.  Only Town Clerk Teresa Potwin has access to the key that opens the vault, she added.

“We’re doing everything we can to make sure no one can get in there and stuff the ballot box,” Ms. Gervais said.  “We want this to represent the wishes of this town.”

Earlier in the evening the selectmen were asked what measures the town would take to protect the people of the town from possible negative effects of industrial wind turbines.  Resident Kathleen Nelson expressed her concern that oversight of the developers is sorely lacking.  The Public Service Board, she said, appears to have no interest at all in evaluating the financial capability of developers.  If a project fails or produces negative effects, would the taxpayers of the town become responsible for making reparations, she asked.

“How are you going to stop these people from ruining everything I’ve worked so hard to build?” Ms. Nelson said.  “What are you going to do to protect me?”

It is difficult to say what steps the town can take considering the project has not even passed the met tower stage, Ms. Gervais said.  Protecting the public is a job best suited to the regulators both at the state and federal level, Selectman James Webb said.

“I guess that’s where the state and whatever regulations they have come into play,” Mr. Webb said.  “As long as they follow the rules, I don’t see what we can do.”

The state’s interest in protecting the public seems tenuous at best, resident Joe Arborio said.  The Public Service Board makes its decisions without ever needing to accept any responsibility for the outcomes of those decisions, he said.

“If it goes wrong they have no responsibility,” Mr. Arborio said.  “It’s what I imagine living in a dictatorship would be like — here it is, deal with it.”

Evaluating the financial stability of a developer falls outside of the town’s jurisdiction, Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope said.  As long as the developer comes in with the money in hand there is no reason for the town to become involved, he said.  It would be different, however, if the developer sought the town’s support for a grant, Mr. Cope added.

“If the town became involved in the financing of a project we would certainly involve an attorney and closely review the risk,” Mr. Cope said.

Ms. Nelson also expressed concern about the potential for the town to become mired in litigation should the developer fail to live up to its promises.  Given the problems that have surfaced around other wind projects both in Vermont and around the nation, the potential for the town needing to litigate seems high, Pam Arborio said.

“I think this is going to end up in the judicial arena before it’s all over,” Ms. Arborio said.

While some people have come forward to express concerns about the negative effect wind turbines would have on the town, those fears represent only half of the issue, Selectman Mike Worth said.

“The other half will be asking what we’re going to do to promote renewable energy in this state,” Mr. Worth said.  “That’s why we’re doing this survey — so we can find out what the majority of people want.  I will do what the town supports.”

Ms. Gervais concluded the discussion with a pledge to give serious consideration to all sides of the issue.  What stance the selectmen will adopt going forward will be heavily influenced by the outcome of the balloting.

“We all have our own opinions about this but we’re willing to put that aside and represent the people of this town,” Ms. Gervais said.  “We’re trying to prepare and get our information ready for when the project finally comes down.”

 Bollard crashes

 In other business the selectmen gave thought as to how to prevent drivers from crashing into the concrete posts that delineate travel lanes at the Rail Depot building.  The large, immovable yellow posts have been struck no less than seven times in recent months.  The posts were originally placed there to prevent tall vehicular traffic from crashing into and tearing off the canopy roof adjacent to the Community National Bank’s drive through.

“We thought we were fixing one problem but ended up creating another,” Ms. Gervais lamented.

The trouble with the posts, or bollards as they are properly known, is that they can easily disappear in the blind spots of larger trucks and SUVs, Mr. Worth said.  Indeed, he also admitted that he has experienced near misses of his own with the bollards.

The selectmen authorized Mr. Cope to investigate the purchase of curbing to provide at least some warning to vehicles before they strike the posts.

contact Richard Creaser at nek_scribbler@hotmail.com

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In Greensboro: Cow power produced from a medium-size herd

Peter Gebbie checks the readings on his new methane generator. Although he admits to being slow with computers, his wife, Sandra, said Mr. Gebbie turns out to be very good with the high-tech system. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle July 25, 2012

by Joseph Gresser

GREENSBORO — On Sunday morning Peter Gebbie had finished milking.  The truck from the St. Albans co-op was loading and his hands were moving out to get the second cut of hay in.

But there was more for him to do.  He and his wife, Sandra, headed toward a new building behind one of his barns.  A sign on the door wisely warned against entering without hearing protection.  Inside an engine roared.

Mr. Gebbie grabbed a clipboard and walked around the room checking readouts at various points along a complicated series of pipes.

He looked pleased at the results.  “Eighty kilowatts,” he said.  When they first started the generator about two weeks ago, it produced only 20 kilowatts.

When it is running at full speed the methane generator will produce 150 kilowatts of power.

Switching the generator on was the culmination of a process that began in Newport a little more than five years ago at a meeting sponsored by the state Agency of Agriculture.  That meeting at the East Side Restaurant brought together dairy farmers who were interested in the process of turning manure and other organic matter into methane and eventually electricity.

At the time the Gebbies were milking 200 cows at Maplehurst Farm.  The farmers who were getting into the electricity business had herds ten times the size of his.

On Sunday, Mr. Gebbie recalled that when he first started calling firms that design and install methane digesters he was turned away.

“The guys who sold digesters laughed at you,” he said, “unless you were at least a 1,000-cow farm.”

Mr. Gebbie persisted and eventually his calls started getting returned.  He said that it seemed to him that the digester builders had worked their way through the big farmers and were ready to deal with someone his size.

While they were investigating the possibility of building a methane digester, the Gebbies doubled the size of their herd to 400 cows.

They were fortunate in having long before set up their barns with slatted floors through which the cows tread their manure and bedding.  Gravity was enough to move this fuel into the digester, a round tank with a flexible cover.

Manure will produce methane with or without special equipment, but left to nature the volatile hydrocarbon will go into the atmosphere where it is a potent greenhouse gas.

Mr. Gebbie said he has heard it has a 24 to 25 times greater effect than carbon dioxide.

The Gebbies knew that things were going well when they saw the cover on the digester begin to balloon upwards.  That indicated that gas was beginning to build up a head of pressure.

From the digester the gas goes into a scrubber which removes impurities to protect the engine of the generator.  Mr. Gebbie said he is lucky because the gas produced by his manure is low in sulfur.

From the scrubber the gas goes to the generator or, if for some reason the generator is down for a while, through an upright pipe which is set up to burn extra gas to keep it from going into the atmosphere.

Once the manure is run through the digester, it could be spread on fields.  The Gebbies have chosen to separate the liquids from the solids, spread the former and use the latter as bedding.

Levels need to be checked throughout the system. Peter Gebbie stands in front of the tank that cleans the methane before it is fed into the generator.

Sawmills used to give away sawdust, Mr. Gebbie noted.  Today they use everything, and the price of bedding is a major cost of doing business.  By producing his own bedding, Mr. Gebbie said, he can save as much as $20,000 a year.

Studies show the bedding produced by digesters reduces the incidence of mastitis and results in a lower somatic cell count, an indicator of a healthy cow, Mr. Gebbie said.

Of course, electricity is the main product of the system.  The Gebbies have a contract to supply 150 kilowatts of power to the Hardwick Electric Company through the state’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development (SPEED) program.

They are guaranteed a price of 14 cents a kilowatt-hour, well above the current market price of four cents.  In addition they can sell Renewable Energy Credits (REC) through the Cow Power program started by Central Vermont Public Service and now under the auspices of Green Mountain Power.

Mr. Gebbie said the REC credits bring in an additional three to four cents a kilowatt-hour, less a small brokerage fee.

The system cannot operate at full capacity with only the manure produced on his farm, Mr. Gebbie said.  To get to the full 150 kilowatts, he will need to find an outside source of carbon.

Typically that means a liquid such as whey, he said.

The 150-kilowatt limit is convenient in one regard.  Power from the system can be moved on a simple single-phase line, the sort that typically serves a home.

Large scale generators on the farms in Franklin and Addison counties may generate more than a megawatt of power and require a very expensive three-phase service to move electricity off the farm.

In addition to power and bedding, the generator can also provide heat for the Gebbies’ home and milking parlor, and hot water, Mr. Gebbie said.  The potential savings could be as great as those from the bedding, but they will require substantial investment in underground pipes, he added.

The digester cost “$1.5-million and climbing,” Mr. Gebbie said.  Grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, Department of Energy and the state Department of Public Service’s Clean Energy Development Fund helped pay between half and three-quarters of the cost, he added.

“Most people would like to see things paid in five years,” Mr. Gebbie said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Why aren’t there more hydro projects?

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle, May 30, 2012

This is part one of a series of articles about hydropower.

MONTPELIER — The Legislature gave a nudge this session to a renewable source of energy that roughly 70 years ago dominated Vermont’s rivers and ponds. As recently as 1940, hydropower supplied the state with 90 percent of its power needs.

But today hydropower is seldom mentioned in the push to acquire 20 percent of Vermont’s energy needs from renewable sources like solar and wind by 2017.

“Hydropower is the forgotten stepchild of the renewable energy movement,” says Lori Barg, who owns a business in Plainfield that designs and installs small hydro systems for towns and farms, and who gave testimony for the hydro bill that was signed into law recently by Governor Peter Shumlin.

One of the co-sponsors of the bill was Northeast Kingdom Senator Vince Illuzzi of Derby. Nearly ten years ago Senator Illuzzi spearheaded a failed attempt to get the state to buy hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River.

He has been pushing hydro ever since and, except for this year, striking out.

“It’s been a constant fight with ANR and water quality people,” he says. And in the Legislature there has been no middle ground with hydro projects, he adds: “Either you authorize them or you don’t.”

The bill that made it into law this year, S.148, intends to expedite the permit process for small and micro hydro developers. A small hydro is defined as a project that generates up to five megawatts (MW) of power, while a micro is one that is 100 kilowatts (KW) or less. There are 1,000 KW in a MW.

Estimates of Vermont potential for hydro projects are all over the map. According to the bill’s findings, they range from 25 MW to 434 MW. In a 2008 study, the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) estimated there were 25 MW at 44 sites; whereas a year earlier the Department of Public Service (DPS) estimated there were 90 MW developable at 300 of the 1,200 existing dams, according to the bill’s findings.

In testimony on the bill before the House Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources Committee, Ms. Barg testified that Vermont has 400 MW of potential hydropower without building a single new dam.

So, the elephant in the room or the whale in the river is the question: Why isn’t hydro playing a larger, more important role in the renewable energy mix?

The reason, say a variety of sources, is the cost of permitting — a process that involves both state and federal agencies.

“Most hydroelectric projects require approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The length and cost of the process of obtaining a FERC approval do not vary significantly with the capacity of the hydroelectric project,” says the bill’s findings. “However, the ability of a hydroelectric project to absorb this cost decreases as the capacity of the project grows smaller.”

To ease the permitting cost, S.148 authorizes the DPS commissioner to enter into an agreement, or what is known as a “memorandum of understanding” (MOU) with FERC that would enable Vermont agencies to prescreen proposed hydroelectric projects in the state.

The MOU would be comparable to one recently signed between Colorado and FERC “to streamline and simplify the authorization of small-scale hydropower projects.” But whereas the Colorado MOU focused mainly on agricultural irrigation canals, Vermont’s will deal with small dams and conduits.

The state must initiate negotiations with FERC by July 15, and recently the DPS assigned a staff person to the project, according to Andy Perchlik, who is the department’s director of Clean Energy Development Fund.

It may be too early to estimate how much money the new law will save those who develop small hydro projects, says Mr. Perchlik. The bill says the state will review the MOU once five projects have been permitted and are up and running.

For its part, says Mr. Perchlik, the state is expected to do “more hand holding” with developers and coordinate permit work among agencies. The department and ANR will put together a list of criteria that a project will have to meet and, once all the agencies have signed off, he adds, FERC will be able to move ahead.

Though some may see the legislation as a step forward, no one is saying it will stimulate hydro development or increase applications for small or micro hydro projects.

Since S.148 went into effect the phone hasn’t been ringing off the hook at the Department of Environmental Conservation, says Brian Fitzgerald, the department’s Streamflow Protection Coordinator.

“Realistically, there aren’t that many good projects out there,” he says.

If the MOU succeeds, Mr. Fitzgerald says the state will be able to offer “a new service” to small hydro projects. He says that by pre-screening environment issues, the state will be able to speed up the FERC review.

Still, he adds, when licensing a hydro project, the state is “allocating a public resource.” And that requires a permitting process “to be thorough and thoughtful.”

Mr. Fitzgerald says operating costs and the need to maintain minimum stream flows are the biggest obstacle for hydro developers. And while legislation to allow hydro owners to sell or net meter power back to utilities has improved the economic picture, he expects the new law will only help a few small hydro developers.

A 5 MW hydro is “a big project for Vermont,” he says.

Hydro projects are licensed for 30 years and, according to Mr. Fitzgerald, between three and five have been certified in the state during the last couple of years. But some say that the permitting process in Vermont takes so long that would-be developers get discouraged.

There are no tax credits but the state does offer grants for micro projects. Mr. Perchlik says the grants only kick in when the permits are nearly in hand.

“You need to prove you’ve got the permit,” he says.

When it comes to hydros, he adds, applications for financial aid are rare.

As the woman who founded the Plainfield business, Community Hydro, Ms. Barg believes projects should be rated initially by the impact they will have on the environment. That would enable those projects with low impact to clear the permit hurdle quicker.

She also believes there should be something like the IRS 1040 EZ form for hydro projects, which she says would make life easier for both the regulated and regulators. In her ideal list, developers would be required to go through a standard form and check off the statements that characterize their projects.

For example:

• “Utilizes for electric power generation only the water power potential of an existing dam”; or

• “Utilizes only a dam at which there is no significant existing upstream or downstream passage of fish.”

In testimony before the House Committee on Fish, Wildlife and Water Resources, she characterized the federal licensing process as onerous and expensive, regardless of size.

Still, she notes, that the MOU signed between Colorado and FERC has expedited the permit process in the Rocky Mountain state by licensing ten projects in a year and a half.

Big hydro projects like the one at James Bay in Quebec may have given hydro an indelible black eye. Senator Illuzzi says it alienated the public opinion by displacing native people and flooding thousands of acres of land. But local hydros, he argues, are viewed more benignly.

Still, when it comes to permitting, he says developers are caught between a “chicken-egg type of thing” as to who comes first, the state or FERC?

“It’s a colossal circuit that advances nothing,” he says.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Hi tech ideas from a low-tech couple

Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser
copyright September 27, 2006
WHEELOCK — Energy researchers are busy in unlikely looking houses along many of the Northeast Kingdom’s back roads. Most favor low-tech solutions to fueling cars, heating homes or generating electricity.
Not so Phillip and Leigh Hurley. From their South Wheelock home they work to put the latest hydrogen fuel cell technology in the hands of average people.
Their business, Good Ideas Creative Services, publishes electronic books under the Wheelock Mountain Publications imprint. Five of them, written by Mr. Hurley, instruct the home experimenter on topics ranging from building your own solar panel to constructing a solar hydrogen fuel cell system.
“If we can do it, anyone can do it,” Mr. Hurley said during a conversation Saturday afternoon. Certainly there is nothing about his or Ms. Hurley’s background that would suggest they might be energy gurus.
He has a bachelor’s degree in human services, she majored in music. They both have masters degrees in theology.
While he lacks formal training, Mr. Hurley said he has “years of experience with avocational electrical experimentation.”
If he had guidance at an early age, he said, he might have pursued a more traditional path in the field of science. As it is, Mr. Hurley said, his work has interested many people who can boast the formal credentials he lacks.
While working on building hydrogen fuel cells, Mr. Hurley said, he needed to find an economical way to create a platinum-coated membrane. He hit on the idea of copying the process photographers use to make paper sensitive to light. Mr. Hurley said he was surprised when scientists termed his idea a stroke of genius.
“I’m not a genius,” he said.
The Hurleys’ research is directed at producing electronic books to help others pursue their backyard or basement research. They have discovered, though, that universities and schools find their books helpful as textbooks.
Mr. Hurley said that some scientists working for large laboratories in the field of fuel cell technology can be so focused on their small portion of the project that they don’t have a clear picture of the way the entire system works. He said he has received calls from such researchers thanking him for his work.
Mr. Hurley is the team’s writer, Ms. Hurley creates the e-books, that are their stock in trade. E-books are electronic books designed to be read on a computer screen.
The couple’s distribution of tasks seems quite flexible. Both are fully conversant with the science and the mechanics of the business. The only place where a firm line exists is customer service. Ms. Hurley handles that.
“He is of the Basil Fawlty school of customer service,” she said of Mr. Hurley.
A person seeking one of the couple’s books goes online to their web site, www.goodideacreative.com, where she can order and pay for it. The customer then downloads her copy.
“It’s instant gratification,” Mr. Hurley said.
Ms. Hurley said when the couple first started publishing most people didn’t understand the idea of e-books. “People would call up and ask for a copy of the actual book, and we would explain this is the book,” she said.
Mr. Hurley said young people are, in general, more comfortable than older people with reading books on a computer screen. He said the style of publishing has advantages both for the reader and the publisher.
The buyer, Mr. Hurley said, will find far more color photographic illustrations than could be economically included in a printed book. He estimated that an equivalent traditional book would have to be priced at $160. Mr. Hurley’s books cost between $8 and $17 to download.
Mr. Hurley said a person living in Botswana, in Africa, would once have had limited access to the kind of information he is offering. Even if a person could afford the book, he would have to order it and wait weeks for delivery.
Ms. Hurley said the couple had heard from a person in Brazil who built a business using information from their book on building solar panels.
The couple’s business benefits from not having to risk more than time and energy in publishing their books. They have no inventory, they depend on few suppliers other than the company that hosts their web site.
Their current business is not their first joint enterprise. For a while they sold and installed solar electric systems.
They also put on fireworks displays and made supplies for pyrotechnic shows.
“We put on the Burlington fireworks show for two years,” Mr. Hurley said. “From where I ran the controls I couldn’t see the fireworks, but I could hear people on boats oohing and aahing. I used their responses to time the show.”
The Hurleys also made the very pure type of charcoal used by fireworks makers. “We figured out a process that used the gases that came off the wood to further purify the charcoal,” Mr. Hurley said. “When we started it up it sounded like a jet engine.”
He said most fireworks makers want willow charcoal, but Mr. Hurley said poplar charcoal has superior qualities.
The couple got out of the charcoal business because it was too dangerous, he said. Even though they ground the material outdoors, the cloud of charcoal dust produced by the process was potentially highly explosive.
“We still get calls for the charcoal,” Ms. Hurley said.
The couple created Good Ideas Creative Services to offer design services to corporations. When the Internet bubble burst, their main client went with it. They suffered as well.
When they were considering what to do next, Ms. Hurley suggested they try to make an electronic book out of a short book he wrote to teach people how to set up the solar panels they once sold.
Mr. Hurley said he was dubious about the project, but Ms. Hurley persuaded him to try. She used the experience she gained from the design service to put the book together and design a web site. The response wasn’t enough to support the couple, but enough to permit the site to pay for itself.
Mr. and Ms. Hurley went on to study and write about hydrogen fuel cells. The cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. The only byproduct besides the energy is a small amount of water and water vapor.
While an individual fuel cell produces only a small amount of energy, the cells can be stacked in a manner that boosts the flow of current.
The Hurleys’ books are designed to teach people to construct experimental systems with simple tools and techniques. Mr. Hurley said he looks hard for useful techniques.
One portion of their process is based on Ben Franklin’s method of making silhouettes, he said. To make their membranes, the pair had to find a substitute for the huge presses used by manufacturers.
“We came up with taking two brass plates held together with c-clamps,” Ms. Hurley said. “We heated them in the oven.”
A supplier catering to amateur experimenters now offers a kit based on their method, Mr. Hurley said.
One of the problems of fuel cell technology is getting pure hydrogen. Using electricity off the grid to separate water into its constituent parts serves no purpose, as a great deal of energy is lost in the process.
The Hurleys came up with the idea of using the sun to power the reaction. Mr. Hurley said one drawback of solar power is storage. Batteries must be continually charged and discharged. A battery charged in the summer will no longer have a charge when winter rolls around, he said.
Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be stored in pressurized tanks or in metallic compounds called hydrides. This hydrogen can be run through fuel cells whenever electricity is needed to recharge a system’s batteries.
Mr. Hurley said that on a bright summer day, solar panels can recharge batteries in a matter of a few hours. The rest of the day’s electricity can be used to create hydrogen.
Hydrogen is not something to be trifled with. One of Mr. Hurley’s books says it contains more energy than any other fuel known. If enough hydrogen and oxygen come together a small spark is enough to set off a large explosion.
For this reason the couple’s books are larded with safety instructions. Their designs also call for numerous features intended to minimize the inherent dangers of experimental systems.
Mr. Hurley doesn’t necessarily see his solar system as a way to get off the grid completely. Rather he said, people can “use it in an intelligent way to add to the green.”
He is not a fan of net metering, selling home-generated power back to the electric grid. Mr. Hurley said it is very difficult for a home system to create enough electricity to provide for one’s own needs and extra to sell.
The Hurleys’ home has two separate sets of wiring, one for commercial power, one for home-generated electricity. They also have two solar systems, one connected to directly to the power system, the other specially designed for hydrogen production.
Mr. Hurley calls his solar array “an electronic Stonehenge.” That idea, he said, is his philosophy of life.
Now that the couple has five books out on hydrogen production and solar power, Mr. Hurley thinks he might turn his attention to nanotechnology. He’s thinking of trying to build a microscope able to examine atomic structure.
As Ms. Hurley said, “We’re both easily amused.”
Mr. Hurley proved the point by telling of the time the two built a million-volt Tesla coil in their dorm room in divinity school. The device is a spark generating device familiar to anyone who ever has seen a mad scientist’s laboratory in a horror movie.
“When we built it we didn’t know how far the sparks would fly,” he said, “so we were hiding behind the bed.”

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Stand Against the Wind tells wind protesters’ stories

Stand Against the Wind:  Civil Disobedience in the Green Mountain State by Chris Braithwaite, Chronicle Inc., Barton, Vermont.  2012, 110 pages, softcover, $19.95.

Reviewed by Julia Shipley

copyright the chronicle May 23, 2012

No matter where you stand on the issue of installing 21 commercial wind turbines atop the Lowell mountains in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, whether you bristle and grieve or feel triumphant or resigned, whether you live here, in Orleans County, or in Atlanta, Georgia, whether you have been doggedly following news of the mountain occupancy or whether you feel exhausted at the very mention of the word “issue,”— whomever you are, you might find an endangered pleasure in this new book, Stand Against the Wind by the Chronicle’s co-founder and publisher, Chris Braithwaite. Those pleasures include both a textbook example of old school, shoe leather journalism built of substantiated assertions and meticulous reporting and the smithing of that information into about 2,000 utterly gorgeous sentences. One right after the other, his narrative travels in boxcars of strong, clear prose driving each of the book’s 27 chapters, and making a collective portrait of civil disobedience committed by six individuals.

The book begins with a symbolic and actual dividing line on top of Lowell Mountain.  As Braithwaite analyzes what the actual plastic tape-line divides, his litany of things divided, and the disparities presented, culminate in this lovely sentence:  The bright orange tape is a line “between a place that is so high, so cussedly strewn with deadfalls and moose shit that nobody goes there except to hunt and hike, each winter for many years to enjoy the near-wilderness experience of camping in the snow; and a mountain so convenient that a guy can drive his pickup to the top just to check the oil on a multimillion dollar machine.”

This first editorial chapter (originally published in the Chronicle) invites us to “risk feeling that you are being torn in two…up where the blasting will soon begin.”

For those of us who did not accept that invitation, the Chronicle has consistently covered the issue for months, and even years.

Although the book encompasses some key events leading up to the commencement of Green Mountain Power’s project to install industrial wind towers on one of Vermont’s northernmost ridgelines, what Braithwaite calls “a wonderful sort of nowhere, ” the book takes for its subject the actions of some concerned citizens to stop it from happening. Like a club sandwich, the book is not just lettuce and cheese, the names and the dates, the he said, and she said. There are other layers interspersed, and the meat of this feast is really found in the in-depth profiles of a half dozen protestors, whom we meet one at a time, the six people most consistently involved with using “direct action.”

“Who cares?” and “Why do they care?” But more importantly: “How do they care?” — this exploration of what care-in-action looks like, of how to gracefully express distress is certainly pertinent to everyone. For even industrial wind tower proponents surely have, at one time in their life, experienced a feeling of powerlessness against a larger force usurping and/or annihilating, something they love.

Stand Against the Wind introduces us to these complicated, intelligent, thoughtful, people, who resist the paralysis of despair and flex that constitutional right we’ve all been guaranteed: the right to express our dissent.

As we learn in the fourth chapter, this expression is first modeled by Anne Morse, who explains to Braithwaite, “The point isn’t getting arrested. The point is the direct action that leads to the arrest. I think that it highlights the problem… people coming together collectively to highlight something that’s happening that’s wrong.”

Subsequent chapters feature profiles on Dr. Ron Holland, Eric Wallace-Senft, David Rodgers, Suzanna Jones, and Ryan Gillard. These interviews feel intimate, as Braithwaite allows each person to articulate the life circumstances and experiences that informed their actions on the Lowell Mountains. Their testimony is so unadulterated, it’s as if we’ve been given access to the inner thoughts, to their minds shifting, reorganizing, each building to his or her own truth. Whereas David Rodgers comes to his decision to protest thorough an increasing urgency realized in an intuitive way, confessing “It’s not something I did methodically, it was more a sense that I need to take a stand,” for Dr. Ron Holland the route to civil disobedience was incredibly logical. His focus was the policy debate. “It’s my sense if this could be put out in a quantitative kind of way — which it can, and it hasn’t been — it would be fully obvious. ”
Although a full disclosure of the links and liaisons I have to the people within this book would supplant the space needed for this review, one disclosure seems too relevant to omit:  On November 2, 2009, almost three full years before the first dynamite charges were detonated, I sent an e-mail to Mr. Braithwaite (who, by dint of having published the Chronicle for the past 38 years is the dean of my de facto journalism school — meaning: I study his work intensely).  In the e-mail I asked, “How do you train in objectivity? You must have an opinion on some of the things you report because: these things will affect you. The Wind Towers? If you’re feeling strongly do you suppress your opinion when writing the article but blurt it out in a once in a blue moon editorial?

Mr. Braithwaite replied tersely (but gamely) the next day with, “Proposed experiment: Read the page 1 story about Lowell wind [Wind friends, foes focus on Lowell Mt. by Chris Braithwaite November 4, 2009], then decide whether the Chronicle favors or opposes wind power in general. Then read the editorial. Did you get it right?”

I deduced, by analyzing every word, examining ratios of which perspectives got more column inches and observing that wind tower proponents got to have the last word, that probably: “Braithwaite wants big wind.” (Obviously, I won’t be graduating from my self- invented J-school at the top of my class.)

Braithwaite further explained, “the reporter’s job is to understand the interests involved and lay them out coherently, like a good sports writer advancing a world series game. You can’t do that well if you let your misguided affection for the Yankees color your assessment… so you learn not to.”

This occupational hazard is tackled again in his book. Much as the footing up to the mountaintops is moose-shit slick and tricky, so Braithwaite also admits to coming “dangerously close” to slipping over the thin partition and being a protestor. Though he accepts the cup of coffee brewed by some of the mountain occupiers, a steaming cup which he describes as a “shocking luxury” on that chilly morning, he refrains from civil disobedience, realizing he cannot report on the protest if he joins them by bending over to make a cairn of the blasted rubble or carry a handful of soil to a freshly planted sapling. And though he jokes in another chapter about the sacrifices his job demands (in particular, how a bout of extended reporting kept him from fully participating in a deer camp getaway), I feel it necessary to point out that for the readers, having a newspaper like the Chronicle at all is a shocking luxury. And that Braithwaite’s actual sacrifice to forgo his expression of civil disobedience has yielded us his newspaper’s ongoing coverage of the commercial wind project, a true boon being as we live too far beyond the radar to merit extensive coverage from other media outlets.

In the book’s introduction, Braithwaite acknowledges that he is damn glad he has postponed retirement to cover what he calls “one of the best” stories in his nearly 50-year career. However, lest we take something seemingly rock solid, enduring and readily available week after week, year after year, like the familiar silhouette of the Lowells themselves for granted, I [editorial comment approaching] believe this book, along with the coverage the Chronicle has provided, are as welcome and revitalizing as a strong cup of coffee on a cold morning in the newly blasted landscape.

Stand Against the Wind will be available soon at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, Green Mountain Books and Prints in Lyndonville, Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, and at the Chronicle office in Barton. The book can be ordered now at: www.createspace.com/3869681.  Julia Shipley is the author of a poetry column about Vermont poems called “It could be Verse,” and she was the 2006 winner of the Ralph Nading Hill Award sponsored by Green Mountain Power, for which she received a cash prize of $1,500. She can be reached at her website:  Writingonthefarm.com.

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