Environmentalists Challenge Vermont Wind Power Project

Published April 4, 2012

Environmentalists have filed a challenge to the U.S. Forest Service’s approval of a wind turbine project slated for Green Mountain National Forest in Vermont.

First in National Forest System

“On January 3 of this year, after eight years of study, the forest supervisor of the Green Mountain National Forest made a decision to permit construction and operation of 15 wind turbines on the forest,” said Robert Bayer, project coordinator for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service in Vermont. “This is the first-ever wind facility approved on national forest system lands.”

The project, which would be built by the Spanish developer Iberdola and called Deerfield Wind, was approved two years ago by the Vermont Public Service Board. Not all board members approved the project—it was a split decision that came on the heels of expressed concerns from the community about the fate of nearby critical bear habitat. 

The project is part of the Obama administration’s choice infrastructure projects slated for expedited permitting. Forest Service officials say the turbine plan is just step one in a larger-scale vision for developing wind power on forest lands nationwide. Environmental groups, meanwhile, are taking their objections to court.

Environmental Coalition Opposes

A coalition of environmental associations headed by the Wilderness Society and the Defenders of Wildlife has filed an administrative appeal with the Forest Service in opposition to its special-use permit. In late February, Vermonters for a Clean Environment also filed an appeal.

“This is precedent-setting,” said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment. “It would be the first wind project of this magnitude on Forest Service lands.”

Vermonters for a Clean Environment favors wind power in general, Smith said, but not in any area that threatens existing properties or protected lands. Smith says the Forest Service plan puts wind turbines within two miles of protected land, the George D. Aiken Wilderness.

“The way they did this project, the environmental impact study, it was a joke,” she said. “It doesn’t pass the smell test. There was no independent study—it was all preordained.”

The environmental groups challenging the plan claim the study used company-paid consultants to analyze the project impacts. Opponents also argue the nearly 400-foot tall wind turbines would spoil views of the protected wilderness, and the explosions needed to blast holes to place the turbines would endanger habitat and residents, they say.

“These huge machines only belong in remote areas,” Smith explained.

Cheryl Chumley ([email protected]) writes from northern Virginia.