Of all the ridgelines in all of Vermont, Reunion Power had to
pick Grandpa's Knob. And why not? On the surface, the ridge is
every wind developer's dream, offering a steady breeze at an
acceptable speed in close proximity to an electric substation and a
long stretch of privately held land that can be optioned for
However, just below the surface, there are many obstacles.
Reunion Power Managing Director Steve Eisenberg has traveled to
local meetings in West Rutland, Castleton, Hubbardton and
Pittsford, the four towns affected by the proposed 15 to 20 turbine
wind project encompassing 4,500 acres along the Grandpa's Knob
Attendance at these meetings has been impressive with over 100
people regularly showing up. These crowds, however, have not come
to hear Eisenberg's presentation as much as to voice their
opposition to the project.
Before diving into the many "sticking points," here is a brief
review of the proposed development.
NUTS & BOLTS
• The project would be built after acquiring a long-term easement
from roughly 15 individuals and group landowners. It is estimated
that about 3 percent, or 150 acres, out of the 4,500 acres, would
be used or disturbed for the project to build access roads,
transmission lines, turbine sites and a maintenance facility.
• Reunion Power hopes to build up to 20 wind turbines roughly
500-feet tall from base to tip of blade. There will be three blades
per turbine about 175-feet long.
• With 20 turbines, Reunion estimates they will be able to generate
50 megawatts of power. Given the meteorological data collected,
Eisenberg said the project would generate 140,000 megawatt hours of
electricity annually, enough to power half of the households in
Rutland County based on statistics from the Vermont Department of
Public Service. Reunion hopes to obtain long-term power purchase
agreements with local utilities.
• If approved, the project would cost roughly $100 million to
build. Eisenberg estimates that Reunion would pay $1 million a year
in taxes, including $500,000 in property taxes and payments to the
four host communities. He also estimates that the company would pay
$420,000 a year to the state education fund.
• Reunion will not receive any federal subsidies on the project.
Eisenberg said there is a federal tax credit of $0.022 per kilowatt
hour that Reunion can claim for 10 years once the project is built
and operational. Based on Eisenberg's projections that the project
will generate 140,000-kilowatt hours of electricity annually, over
10 years, Reunion would earn $3,080 a year against its federal
taxes, or $30,800 over the maximum 10-year tax credit period.
But one big issue opponents have with Reunion Power is the
perceived rejection of information from the state Agency of Natural
Resources (ANR) regarding the environmental impacts on the
Grandpas' Knob ridgeline should the project be built. ANR has met
with Eisenberg and his consultants many times over the last 10
At issue is ANR's identification of the habitat area of Grandpa's
knob as a rare and irreplaceable natural area (RINA) containing
numerous rare species and state-significant natural communities.
The agency recently completed a habitat block rating system for the
entire state, and the Grandpa's Knob habitat block scored 11th in
the state out of 4,055 blocks total, and 2nd in the Taconic range
only to the Bomoseen block as a RINA.
Eisenberg in his presentation said in his opinion, "It seems that
large blocks of privately-held land automatically ranks very high"
in the ANR habitat blocking system. "It does not speak to specific
habitat, wetlands, etcetera. With the exception of bats, there are
no details," he said.
Reunion and its consultants contend that their studies of the area
are more extensive than those done by ANR, at this point. "They
will catch up to us, but at this point, their desktop (habitat
block) study is the sole source of determining this as an
irreplaceable natural area," Eisenberg said.
"ANR's position that the area is rare and significant is something
the PSB will consider, but it's not the only thing they will
consider," Eisenberg added. "As we understand it and true to actual
environmental impacts, a project could be designed and constructed
without undo environmental impact on the ridgeline." Reunion is
required to meet a standard that will not create "undo impact" on
Many letters to the editor in local papers and residents at area
select board meetings have urged local officials to require a
property value guarantee from Reunion to protect homeowners should
the project be built. Opponents claim that studies in Lempster,
N.H. area saw a sharp decline in property values once the wind farm
there was built.
Eisenberg sited a University of New Hampshire study done in January
2012 that found "no evidence that the Lempster project has had a
consistent… significant impact on property values. That study was
conducted over six years and included 2,600 property sales.
Opponents contend that abandoned homes are not included in that
survey and that other studies indicate up to a 40 percent loss of
property values in homes in the area of a wind turbine
Eisenberg said he would not consider including a property value
guarantee for homeowners in the area because there are too many
variables that affect property values above and beyond the wind
"I am not in the real estate business," he said. "Any kind of a
guarantee would be impossible to implement. There are far too many
factors, loss of job, changing economic climate… There is no way we
or the towns could frame a guarantee."
Aesthetics of the ridgeline continues to be one of the largest
sticking points for residents of the four affected towns. Given
that the vast majority of Vermonters support reunable energy
projects, wind and solar being among the most popular, it begs the
question of whether opposition falls under the "as long as it's not
in my back yard" syndrome. Pittsford resident Jim Rademacher,
however, points to such projects being in conflict with state
"Vermont is the state that has banned bill boards as obtrusive to
the values of what Vermont is. Those 500-foot turbines will
be obtrusive to our priceless ridge," said Rademacher. "When you
come home to Pittsford from either the north or the south, it is
that ridge that greets you and welcomes you home. It is a
view and an experience that we will never tire of nor get used to…
With all sincerity, I beg you, do whatever you can to prevent those
500 ft monsters from occupying our beloved and priceless ridge
line," he continued addressing the Pittsford Select Board.
Not everyone thinks the turbines will negatively affect aesthetics.
Pittsford Selectman Joe Gagnon said he's old enough to remember the
original wind tower built on Grandpa's Knob in 1941. It was the
first wind turbine ever built, and it operated until 1943, when a
bearing issue shut it down for two years. The 175-foot wind tower
was back online in early March 1945, but a blade failure just weeks
later led to the turbine's dismantling.
Gagnon said that original turbine didn't bother him and, in fact,
he finds wind turbines "quite interesting" especially after
visiting a wind project in western New York State.
"Who's to say the tourists won't come and see the windmills the way
they come and see the leaves change?" he asked. I urge everyone
with concerns to see (a turbine project) for yourself."
Eisenberg echoed that sentiment in his presentation.
"The best thing you can do is go and visit a wind project," he
said. "Talk to people, touch a turbine, get information firsthand,
not through the internet. There is no substitute for your own
THE PUBLIC SERVICE BOARD
On all things power-related in the state of Vermont, it is the
three-member Public Service Board that has the final say as to
whether a project is considered "in the public good."
Eisenberg said Reunion Power hopes to file its application for a
Certificate of Public Good (CPG) later this year. If approved, the
CPG could be issued in late 2013, Eisenberg said, and with an
expected eight-month construction period, the wind project could be
generating power as early as the end of 2014.
But there are a lot of hoops to jump through before construction
can even be considered. The PSB has a formidable and lengthy
application and review process, and Reunion Power must submit all
manner of studies regarding birds, bats, wildlife, wetlands, trees,
rare plants, noise, housing, cultural and historical, and visual
impact. Eisenberg said the company has engaged a list of
consultants that are working on these various studies in
preparation to file with the PSB.
Once the application is filed, notice will go out to the towns and
the regional planning commissions within 10 miles of the project
site. There will be pre-hearing conferences. The PSB and staff will
conduct a site visit. Then there will be a series of public
hearings where the public may present comments and concerns to the
PBS. Then there is a technical hearing with testimony from expert
witnesses, ending will the submittal of briefs and a final review
by the PSB.
An approval by the PSB often comes with a number of
"It's a very democratic process and that's what we will follow,"
Eisenberg said. "It's a process that can go on for a very long
Pittsford residents overwhelmingly wanted to vote on the issue, but
Pittsford Select Board Chair Hank Pelkey said it wouldn't
"We got a legal opinion on that," he said May 24. "Regardless of
what we do, the vote is meaningless. The PSB has the final say, not
the town." But the PSB does consider the opinion of each town's
select board before approving or denying the project's application
for a Certificate of Public Good.
Another way for towns to weigh in on such projects is the Town
Plan, says Annette Smith, an environmental activist from Danby. She
sits on the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and is
the executive director of the non-profit Vermonters for a Clean
"You do have a voice and it's in your town plan," she said. "The
PSB wants to see clear and specific language about the direction
the town wants to take." She said it's up to the town's people to
ask the planning commission to amend the town plan.
All four towns are now discussing the possibility of openning their
town plans for review. West Rutland's town plan currently states
the town is in favor of renewable energy, but prohibits development
on the ridgeline. Residents hope revisions will make their
intentions even more clear for the PSB.
"I want to believe that our select board members in our towns...
will listen to this exponentially growing group of taxpayers and
residents who do not want this project in our towns," said Lisa
Wright Garcia, in a recent letter to the editor. Garcia is a
landowner in West Rutland and Pittsford who runs a small scale
sugaring, farming and orcharding operation. "I want to believe the
'greater good' will be carried out - and the 'greater good' in this
case cannot possibly be allowing a project that will cause 'undue
adverse impacts' to proceed," she said.
The Rutland Regional Planning Commission will host a panel
discussion next week, focusing on local and municipal involvement
through the Act 248 process. The discussion will be at the Rutland
Intermediate School auditorium June 28 starting at 6 p.m.