November 19, 2008

Weighing Wind Energy

Meg Mitchell, Forest Supervisor, Green Mountain National Forest, writes:

The Green Mountain National Forest released the Draft Environmental Impact Statement [DEIS] for the proposed Deerfield Wind Project in September and we will accept public comment until November 28. The DEIS helps us make a final decision on approval or disapproval of the project by analyzing the effects of an expansion of wind energy development onto National Forest lands, next to the existing wind turbines in Searsburg.

Energy development such as oil and gas exploration and extraction, pipelines, and electricity transmission lines have all been permitted on portions of National Forest lands across the country. However, wind energy development is new to us. Like other activities, this development would have costs and benefits we look at closely before permitting.

As I move toward a final decision, I consider the feedback, comments, and suggestions from all the people who are interested in this project. At recent public meetings, participants requested additional information about spill prevention, restoration and facility removal plans integrated into any action alternative. We also have more work to do on mitigation and monitoring plans for each alternative. In making my final decision I will take all of this into account, consult with other agencies, and step back and look at the larger picture.

This is very likely one of the better places for wind energy in the State (and why there are already wind towers there). But this does not mean we should proceed with this particular project now. This proposal is for is a small wind energy facility. Yet, even with careful design, there are local environmental effects that can’t be avoided. The chief concern appears to be the potential impact to bear habitat. Bears, like people, react differently to uncertainty or something new in their environment. Some prefer being conservative and staying away from development, while others are more comfortable with unknowns and can adapt. Scientists do not agree on all aspects of impacts to bears, but most agree limiting the amount of human access to the area is important.

I am also searching for other options for those concerned with preserving wildlife habitat and supporting alternative energy development. One possibility is ensuring additional quality habitat on nearby lands is managed for bears. Because these bears range over large distances, yet depend on a variety of habitat, this could be one way to offset some risks. Such lands could be privately owned or managed by a nongovernmental group, Town or agency. This could also be a tool for future alternative energy projects that have broad benefits, and localized effects.

As the Forest Supervisor, I also must consider the health of the Green Mountain National Forest and the habitat it provides. We must change our energy consumption patterns by combining energy conservation with the development of cleaner sources to protect Forests, our health and all forms of life that depend on ecosystems and the services they provide. Even without the encouragement of the Federal Energy Policy Act of 2005, I feel a responsibility to be part of the solution.

I also need to know the full opinion of the Public Service Board; they are well versed in these matters and as the final Public Service Board hearings proceed, I’ll be listening for their opinion. It’s the right way to proceed since we both share jurisdiction and responsibilities for this project. I look forward to more feedback on our DEIS. As the final information and opinions flow in, I know this is an important decision and it will weigh heavily on my mind.

More information:
Kristi Ponozzo
Public Affairs Officer
Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forest

wind power, wind energy, wind turbines, wind farms, environment, environmentalism, animal rights, Vermont