Vermont’s largest wind energy development, the Sheffield Wind Project, is now fully online. At a ribbon-cutting ceremony on October 26, 2011, Governor Peter Shumlin declared, “Climate change is the biggest threat to our children and grandchildren. We in Vermont must lead — and get off our addiction to oil. It's essential for Vermont to achieve our goal of generating 90% of our electricity from renewable sources by 2050.”
Shumlin predicted, “If we go forward with plans for more renewable energy projects in Vermont, we will be able to retire our aging, leaky nuclear power plant.”
The project developer, First Wind, began construction at the Sheffield, Vermont site in September 2010. The project was completed ahead of schedule.
Paul Gaynor, the CEO of First Wind, noted that construction was undertaken in an environmentally conscious manner. Narrow cranes were used to raise the turbines; all of the electrical cables between the turbines are buried; and as few trees as possible were cut — to the point where the developer was worried whether the subcontractor responsible for raising the turbines would find the small clearings acceptable. In the end, however, the project proceeded smoothly.
Although First Wind is proud of the steps that workers took to protect the environment, many Vermonters remain upset by the project. A dozen protesters gathered at the entrance to the wind site, holding signs expressing opposition to mountaintop development. Among the protesters was David Zimmerman of Sheffield, who said, “This project is wrecking the mountains and wrecking the view. This will be terrible for the economy. The electricity will be much more costly than what we pay now. This is a tragic day.”
Another protester, Rose Friedman of East Hardwick, said, “I'm opposed to the destruction of the ecosystem for pseudo-green profit. I'm worried that industrial wind will take over the whole state.” In a similar vein, Suzanna Jones of Walden said, “I object to the destruction of nature for profit, especially when it is greenwashed.”
Kaitlin Irwin of Sheffield Heights expressed doubts that the turbines would produce as much energy as predicted. “Everyone I know who has a wind tower is taking it down, because it isn't producing as much energy as they thought it would,” she said.
Although Irwin doubts that Sheffield Heights is windy enough to generate useful energy, First Wind is confident of their projections. According to Josh Bagnato, First Wind's environmental manager, on the eve of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the 16 turbines in Sheffield were operating at full capacity — in other words, feeding 40 megawatts of electricity into the grid. All of the electricity generated at the Sheffield facility is being purchased by consumer-owned utilities in Vermont.
Max Aldrich, a member of the Sheffield Board of Selectmen, summed up the mood of many local residents who attended the opening-day festivities. Aldrich said, “Now the citizens of Sheffield can say, ‘We are doing our part to reduce the nation's carbon footprintAmount of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that a person, community, industry, or other entity contributes to the atmosphere through energy use, transportation, and other means. .’ I'm proud to live in Sheffield.”
For more information on the Sheffield wind project, see Utility-Scale Wind Turbines.