Sheffield Selectmen enter contract with wind company

by Joseph Gresser

copyright June 14, 2006

SHEFFIELD — Sheffield Selectmen and UPC Vermont Wind have come to an agreement.   If the 20 wind generators proposed for Sheffield are built UPC will make an annual payment to the town of between  $400,000 and $550,000.

In return Sheffield promises to support UPC’s application before the state Public Service Board (PSB) and cooperate with the company in its dealings with other state agencies.
Max Aldrich, chairman of the Sheffield Selectmen, said Tuesday that selectmen felt they were carrying out the desires of most  Sheffield voters by signing the agreement.
“To this point the majority has supported the project,” he said, “and we, as a board, have supported the majority.”
Mr. Aldrich said the selectmen wanted “to negotiate a contract while we have leverage.”  The town, he said, would not be able to get as good a deal if it waited until the PSB approves the project.
The agreement, Mr. Aldrich said, was largely worked out in private sessions.  Mr. Aldrich said that he was given authority to act as negotiator for the town.  Because he was the sole selectman present at many of the bargaining sessions the discussions were not selectmen’s meetings and, thus, were not required to be warned or opened to the public.
The Ridge Protectors, an organization that opposes the Sheffield project, issued a press release Tuesday objecting to the selectmen’s action.  The selectmen, they say, should have put the contract to a public vote before signing it.
The group’s statement claims that  the agreement is, in fact, a tax stabilization plan and, as such, must, by law, be approved by Town Meeting.
In their press release, Ridge Protectors says its members plan to write to Secretary of State Deb Markowitz asking her to insist on such a Town Meeting.  The organization also plans to mount an “aggressive campaign” to request selectmen to resign and hold a special Town Meeting to elect replacements.
Greg Bryant, a spokesman for the group, said Tuesday there has been a “huge breach of trust between the voters and the select board.”
The agreement, Mr. Bryant said, puts in place a “gag order” for the town of Sheffield.  “It basically turns this town into UPC.” he said, “We have no say.”
Mr. Aldrich said the selectmen decided not to call for a Town Meeting to approve the contract after receiving letters from the Ridge Protectors that said a second vote would not be the solution.
On December 1, 2005, Sheffield supported the wind turbines, 120 to 93, in a nonbinding straw vote.
Selectmen, Mr. Aldrich said, took the advice of members of the Ridge Protectors in choosing the lawyer who guided them through the negotiations.  The board, Mr. Aldrich said, heard from Ridge Protector Rob Brown, that Richard Saudek came highly recommended.  The board had been very satisfied with Mr. Saudek’s performance he said.
The contract calls for annual payments to the town based on the assessed value of the wind towers.  If the towers are valued at $1-million per megawatt of capacity, and the generators are rated at 40 megawatts the town will receive $550,000 per year minus the municipal portion of property taxes.
At $2-million per megawatt the town will receive $400,000 per year minus the municipal portion of property taxes.  In either event municipal property taxes would be paid to the town to make up the full negotiated payment.
UPC also agrees, in principal, to the creation of a decommissioning fund to pay for the removing turbines, transformers, and overhead power collection lines when the project is no longer in use.  “Underground infrastructure” will be removed to a depth of two feet below grade and the area “will be grade to match adjacent contours, and allowed to revegetate naturally.”  Roads built to serve the project will remain in place.
Other provisions of the contract call for baseline measurements to be made of noise levels once the wind turbines are in operation.  This, the contract says, is to protect the company and the town from “future controversy over the noise levels from the wind farm.”
UPC agrees to submit plans to Sheffield officials for prior approval if they affect town roads or drainage near town highways.  The company also agrees to repair damage to town roads, culverts or bridges caused by construction of the wind facility.
In return Sheffield is bound “to cooperate with UPC before the Public Service Board and other regulatory agencies.”  Should UPC make changes to the project that are acceptable to the town, Sheffield is obligated to cooperate with UPC “in dealing with the State of Vermont taxing authorities and the Vermont legislature.”
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Lowell wind protesters arrested

by Chris Braithwaite
copyright the Chronicle December 7, 2011
LOWELL — For an hour or two on Monday morning, a small group of determined protesters brought some very large construction equipment on Lowell Mountain to a halt.
The protesters stepped out onto a path being constructed for a crane that will eventually erect 21 460-foot wind turbines along the mountain’s ridgeline. They stretched a long banner that read “United we stand” across the road and stopped a big dump truck with an oversized red sign that said “Stop Destroying Vermont.”
While the men who are building Green Mountain Power’s wind project stood around in a mixture of bemusement and impatience, the protesters waited for police to come and arrest them for trespass.
Police were a long time coming, however, and pickups, trucks and one tractor trailer loaded with bags of cement formed a substantial line on the crane path, waiting to get back to business.
Finally a bulldozer was called in to scrape blast debris away and widen the road enough to let traffic move past the demonstrators.
They waited perhaps another hour for two Orleans County deputy sheriffs to arrive in a pickup driven by State Police Detective Sergeant Darren Annis.
Chief Deputy Phil Brooks ordered the demonstrators to leave the property or face arrest.
Three of the nine demonstrators withdrew to the Nelsons’ property. The remaining six stood their ground.
(This reporter also refused to leave the property. An account of his arrest is published on page 23 of this week’s issue.)
The demonstrators were carried down the mountain in the pickup in three shifts, transferred to sheriff’s department cruisers, and taken to the State Police barracks in Derby. There they were confined briefly in a holding cell until, one at a time, they could be fingerprinted, photographed, and issued citations to appear in Orleans Superior Court on December 20.
The demonstrators were not put in handcuffs, and reported cordial conversations with the deputies who drove them to Derby.
The protesters who were arrested were Dr. Ron Holland of Irasburg, David Rodgers of East Craftsbury, Ryan Gillard of Plainfield, Suzanna Jones of Walden, Eric Wallace-Senft of West Woodbury, and Anne Morse of Craftsbury Common.
For the demonstrators, Monday was the culmination of a long, carefully planned series of acts of civil disobedience aimed at slowing the wind project’s construction, and drawing public attention to what they believe are its environmental and economic shortcomings.
As the sun rose Monday morning, they gathered at the bottom of the trail up the mountain to introduce themselves and share their hopes and fears for the day ahead.
“I don’t really have any fears, except that they don’t arrest us,” said Mr. Wallace-Senft.
A varying collection of protesters had been challenging the project on the mountain for weeks, without getting arrested.
First they violated a judge’s order that they stay away from a portion of Don and Shirley Nelson’s farm while GMP’s contractors were blasting nearby. But when police arrived to enforce that order, the protesters withdrew.
Two young protesters who arrived at the top shortly after an explosion was set off were arrested on November 16. They have told their supporters that they had no intention of getting arrested. Both pled innocent to criminal contempt of court and are awaiting trial.
In an attempt to get arrested for trespass, rather than contempt, other protesters crossed the property line and set up a temporary campsite on the edge of the construction site.
They were left pretty much on their own on a Saturday. But when they returned on Monday, November 21, police were on hand to read them the judge’s order. Facing contempt charges, the protesters retreated once again.
But the order, a preliminary injunction issued by Superior Court Judge Martin Maley, expired on Friday, December 2.
And finally, this Monday the protesters climbed the mountain and stepped briskly out onto the construction site.
Although they were anticipating arrest, the group unwound a long ball of twine across the crane path to establish their claim that they weren’t trespassing on land leased for the project by GMP.
The Nelsons have argued in court that the property line that runs through the nearby woods is incorrect. Their property, they claim, extends between 150 and 190 feet to the west, onto the project site.
If the Nelsons are right, the trespasser would be GMP, whose contractors have cut trees and blasted away rock to make permanent changes to the disputed terrain.
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Rally unites opposition to wind turbines on both sides of border

by Richard Creaser
copyright the Chronicle May 9, 2012
DERBY LINE — About 70 people gathered outside the historic Haskell Free Library and Opera House on Sunday to voice their opposition to a proposal to erect two wind turbines on farms in Derby. At the core of the dissent was the failure to notify abutting landowners in Stanstead, Quebec.
“We are opposed to the Encore Redevelopment project,” Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil said in his opening address. “We also want to make clear that this will have an effect on our community.”
Many homes in Stanstead would be closer to the wind turbines than homes on the American side would be. In some cases, houses would be as close as 500 feet to the turbines, Mark Duchamp said. Mr. Duchamp, who is from Spain and is co-founder of European Platform Against Windfarms (EPAW), was invited to speak at the rally. He was vacationing in Quebec and accepted the invitation to address the assembly.
“Nowhere else in the world do wind towers exist so close to homes,” he said.
In Denmark, the minimum distance allowed for erecting wind turbines is a distance equal to four times the height of the structures, Mr. Duchamp said. Allowing the turbines to be built so close to homes is a clear failure of governments to protect the health and well-being of its citizens, he said.
Dr. Robert McMurtry addressed the group via Skype. Mr. McMurtry, of Ontario, was critical of government supported studies that denounce the existence of “wind turbine syndrome.” In particular he was critical of the 2010 report issued by the chief medical officer of health of Ontario.
“Annoyance was strongly correlated with individual perceptions of wind turbines,” the report said. “Negative attitudes, such as an aversion to the visual impacts of wind turbines on the landscape, were associated with increased annoyance, while positive attitudes, such as direct economic benefit from wind turbines, were associated with decreased annoyance.”
Such statements imply the complicity of governments in the promotion of wind turbine development in North America and elsewhere, Mr. McMurtry said. If they judged cigarettes by the same standard as wind turbines, they would tell us it is okay to smoke, he said.
“Adverse health effects do exist,” Mr. McMurtry said. “There are people being damaged. The issue has not been dealt with responsibly by governments.”
Jean Rousseau, the member of Parliament for Compton-Stanstead, pledged to raise the issue in Ottawa. The close proximity of Canadian homes to the proposed site exposes those citizens to potential harm, he said.
“We want to have a better planet but we can’t just do it anywhere,” Mr. Rousseau said.
“The community of Derby Line and Stanstead does not want this project,” said Pierre Reid, a member of the Quebec National Assembly. “I am inviting Mr. Farrell to take this project elsewhere.”
Chad Farrell is the principal behind Encore Redevelopment.
Of particular concern to Stanstead resident Jean Francois Nadeau is the danger posed by ice throw.
“I’m no expert in physics, but even I know that when a block of ice falls 150 meters it will hurt like hell,” Mr. Nadeau said.
Daria MonDesire, a Derby Line resident, said the wind industry is terrorizing local communities by subjecting them to wind turbines.
“There is nothing green about destroying the planet in order to save it,” Ms. MonDesire said.
Senator Joe Benning, who represents the Orange-Caledonia district, said Governor Peter Shumlin’s administration has targeted the Northeast Kingdom for an unwanted and unwelcome investment in wind energy.
“What it is, is a place under attack by people who seek to make a quick buck,” Senator Benning said. “We need to educate, not alienate, those who are in power. Eventually, they will understand that you do not rape a ridgeline to make power that is intermittent.”
Permitting the wind turbines to go up in Derby would only be the first step in an inevitable proliferation of towers, Mr. Duchamp said.
“It is very easy once there are three to have many more,” he said. “It starts with three and then there are 30, then there are 60. When the resistance of the people is broken they install more.”
The effects will only worsen as the number of towers grow, Mr. Duchamp said. Home values will decline until properties become un-sellable, and residents will be condemned to live beneath the towers, he said.
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Sheffield wind project is officially completed

by Joseph Gresser
copyright the Chronicle November 2, 2011
SHEFFIELD — In a large tent struck at the base of a 425-foot wind tower Wednesday, October 26, First Wind celebrated the completion of its 16-turbine project here.
Although speakers acknowledged opposition to the project — opposition that brought about 20 protesters and their signs to the site entrance — developers used the occasion to thank the people who supported their efforts.
Josh Bagnato, who is First Wind’s environmental manager, boasted that the project was built despite record snows and record rains. The night before the celebration the turbines had been producing at full capacity, Mr. Bagnato said, although they slowed visibly as the ceremony got underway and were becalmed by its conclusion.
Mr. Bagnato said First Wind had overcome some “small pockets of resistance,” and told the crowd of approximately 150 people that the company’s persistence was worth it. It had resulted in “a project we should be proud of,” he said.
“The town of Sheffield should be commended for enabling this change to take place when other towns resisted,” Mr. Bagnato said.
He said First Wind began plans for the project in Sheffield eight years ago. The site appealed to the developers because of its strong northwest winds, easy access to power lines and because it had a network of existing logging roads.
Mr. Bagnato said that First Wind had no wind turbines in operation when it first looked at Sheffield, but it now has ten projects generating power in five states.
The Sheffield project is composed of 16 2.5-megawatt Clipper turbines, each 425 feet tall at the tip of the blade. Mr. Bagnato said that, with favorable winds, the project can power up to 42,000 homes.
He said that three Vermont utilities, Vermont Electric Cooperative, Washington Electric Cooperative, and Burlington Electric have signed contracts for all the power generated by the Sheffield turbines.
It would take 40,000 tons of coal per year to equal the power output of the Sheffield towers, Mr. Bagnato said. The company will pay $10-million to Sheffield in lieu of property taxes for the 20 years the plant is expected to stay in operation, he said.
Mr. Bagnato introduced Paul Gaynor, head of First Wind, who immediately turned the microphone over to Governor Peter Shumlin.
Mr. Shumlin used the extreme weather conditions the state has seen in the first ten months of his administration as an argument in favor of building renewable power projects as quickly a possible.
The Sheffield turbines are “an example of how to do it right,” the Governor said. Mr. Shumlin said his administration wants to see the state get 90 percent of its energy needs from renewable sources by 2050 for a “bright oil-free future.”
He talked about how climate change and acid rain have affected his farm in Putney. Where there was once a thriving sugarbush, there is now a tangle of buckthorn, Mr. Shumlin said.
A pond that teemed with life in his youth now supports no living creatures, the Governor said. And he talked about taking a buck four years ago on the next-to-last day of hunting season while clad in shorts and running shoes.
Mr. Shumlin set out a vision of projects like the Sheffield one producing “clean, green renewable power.” With the new plants the state “will be able to retire aging leaking nuclear plants, and provide a bright jobs future for all of us.”
Mr. Gaynor returned to the podium saying that the day was a nostalgic one for him as he recalled the seven years from conception to completion of the project. He said his company had invested about $100-million to build the 16 turbines.
The project had minimal impact on the wetlands on Sheffield Mountain and that as little land as possible was cleared to set up the towers, Mr. Gaynor said. He said that workers were amazed at how little space they were given to do their work.
The project was also designed to avoid harming bear and moose habitats, Mr. Gaynor said. During periods of bat migration the company has agreed to cut back on power production, he said.
Mr. Gaynor told the crowd that Tony Klein of East Montpelier, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, gave him one piece of advice when they started work in Sheffield: “Don’t screw it up.”
“I think I used another word,” Mr. Klein responded.
Mr. Klein said committee members worked for ten years to create the conditions for projects like the Sheffield turbines. He maintained that Vermont’s permitting process is the strictest in the U.S., if not the world.
“I think you guys are out of your minds,” for going through the regulatory process, Mr. Klein said.
Pointing to the National Guard cap he wears to shield his bald head, Mr. Klein said it also serves to honor Vermont men and women who serve their state and country. He said he hopes projects like the one in Sheffield will mean that troops will no longer have to fight for petroleum in far off places.
Avram Patt, who heads the Washington Electric Cooperative, said board members traveled around the country and around the world to inspect other wind projects before allowing the co-op to commit to the First Wind project.
He said that he is pleased that the power from the Sheffield turbines will go to consumer owned power companies.
After the speeches, the crowd gathered at the foot of one of the towers, where a short length of ribbon was fastened across the railings of a stairway.
With a snip of the ribbon, the project was open for business, awaiting only the return of the northwest breeze.
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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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