Simulation of a section of the project, from 2.7 miles away: Kingdom Community Wind
Some well spoken and well meaning opposition to a wind power project in northeastern Vermont today in the New York Times. At issue is whether the clean electricity that would be generated from Kingdom Community Wind project in Lowell, and its planned 21 turbines totaling 63 MW, stretched across 3 miles of ridgeline, is enough of an environmental benefit to offset the environmental impact of building it.
Former commissioner of the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department Steve Wright says no.
Erecting those turbines along more than three miles of ridgeline requires building roads -- with segments of the ridgeline road itself nearly half as wide as one of Vermont's interstate highways -- in places where the travel lanes are now made by bear, moose, bobcat and deer.
It requires changing the profile of the ridgeline to provide access to cranes and service vehicles. This is being accomplished with approximately 700,000 pounds of explosives that will reduce parts of the mountaintops to rubble that will be used to build the access roads.
It also requires the clear-cutting on steep slopes of 134 acres of healthy forest, now ablaze in autumn colors. Studies have shown that clear-cutting can lead to an increase in erosion to high-quality headwater streams, robbing them of life and fouling the water for downstream residents, wild and human
The electricity generated by this project will not appreciably reduce Vermont's greenhouse gas emissions. Only 4 percent of those emissions now result from electricity generation. (Nearly half come from cars and trucks, and another third from the burning of heating oil.)
Before continuing, let's remember that the reason Vermont's percentage of emissions from electricity generation are so low is because of its use of nuclear power locally and imported hydropower--both sources themselves highly contentious on environmental grounds, locally and more broadly.
Wright goes on to pitch the tourist value of the Green Mountains remaining unspoiled by wind turbines, and how much of those would have to be capped with wind turbines to provide a significant amount of electricity. Just 25% of Vermont's electricity supplied by wind power would require 29 miles of ridgeline punctuated with hundreds-of-feet tall turbine, Wright says.
This discussion of the appropriateness of any development in sensitive environmental areas for clean power is certainly a widespread one--Earth First! has protested wind power projects in the Maine wilderness, there's been well-publicized protest of planned solar power plants in sensitive areas of California, and don't forget the opposition to Cape Wind. It's bound to be a growing one too, and one which requires some hard situational thinking. On different projects I personally come down on different sides of the issue.
In this case, it's quite true that development of wind power projects along Vermont's iconic Green Mountain ridges will seriously change the landscape.
Anyone who says a series of wind turbines atop a mountain ridge doesn't change the view from a ruggedly pastoral one to an industrialized one hasn't seen a medium- or large-scale wind power project; single or even twinned wind turbines are nothing like it and don't represent at all the change that's created when a virtual picket fence of turbines is built. In some places this may be an acceptable thing, but not everywhere by any means.
It's also true that the alternative to low-carbon energy sources is to continue down a path leading to significant climate changes that, in the case of Vermont particularly, will seriously change the character of the natural landscape as well.
It's a tough knot to untie for sure.