Yale-backed wind plan incites controversy

A wind farm in Searsburg, Vt., provides energy to over 2,000 Vermont households.
A wind farm in Searsburg, Vt., provides energy to over 2,000 Vermont households. Photo by Isaac Arnsdorf.

The town of Ira, Vt., population 452, has no stores, no gas station and no post office. What it does have are sweeping vistas of Vermont’s Green Mountains.

And the slopes of those mountains have wind — wind that a developer wants to harness to produce an estimated 240,000 megawatt hours of clean, renewable energy every year. The developer, known as the Vermont Community Wind Farm, is leasing the land from Wagner Forest Management, a firm that manages 4,000 acres on behalf of investors, one of whom is purportedly Yale University, according to a local state legislator who said he has seen records of the transactions.

The plan to erect some 60 windmills around nearby Herrick Mountain and Susie’s Peak would ruin the precious scenery, say the town’s residents.

“Suddenly you’re thrusting an industrial complex into what’s really a rural residential neighborhood,” said David Potter, who represents Ira in the Vermont House of Representatives. “In my opinion, [the windmills] don’t fit.”

Because the land for the development is deeded in various business names, nothing on the books actually says Yale, said Ira’s town clerk, Candace Slack. But, she added, people in the town believe Yale owns a stake. Multiple University officials did not confirm or deny the holding, though Wagner has been known to partner with Yale in the last decade.

Yale, for its part, keeps its holdings confidential so that other investors don’t copy them, said Jonathan Macey, a Law School professor and chairman of the Advisory Committee on Investor Responsibility. But various holdings have been traced to Yale in the past, he added, and he has “no reason to disbelieve” that Yale owns this timberland.

Macey, whose committee hears grievances about the ethics of Yale’s investments, said he hasn’t heard any complaints about the Ira windmill project.

“Everybody’s unhappy with these wind turbines,” he said. “Everybody loves them if they’re somewhere else.”

Almost 30 percent of Yale’s endowment is invested in so-called real assets, such as oil, real estate and timber. Chief Investments Officer David Swensen declined to comment.

Potter himself owns land within half a mile of the proposed site of the 400-foot wind turbines — land that his family has owned since 1820. The spot where Potter shot his first deer, he said, would become the footprint of one of these windmills.

Besides the aesthetic impact, Potter warned of the environmental damage that would result from blasting to build foundations and clearing to build access roads. And the windmills make noise, a constant mechanical hum that Potter claims can cause insomnia, headaches and depression.

Jeff Wennberg, a former six-term mayor in nearby Rutland, Vt., and now the spokesman for the Vermont Community Wind Farm, denied that windmills cause such health effects.

“Wrong, wrong and wrong,” he said. “They certainly do make noise, but an awful lot of the fears people have are based on misinformation.”

Of all existing windmill developments, only 20 percent have registered noise complaints, he said.

But on the point of visual impact, he conceded. “It’s absolutely unavoidable,” he said. “The landscape is beautiful.”

Still, Wennberg emphasized the environmental and economic benefits of wind energy. All the energy the windmills would produce would be consumed within Vermont, and the state won’t approve the project unless it lowers or stabilizes energy costs, he said.

“This is an opportunity to tap into an extraordinarily valuable and rare resource,” he said. “This ridgeline is exceptionally good.”

Potter said he supports renewable energy on principle (and has done so in the legislature), just not when it means windmills in his backyard.

“And I’m proud of that fact,” he added, “because my backyard is important to me, although I suppose somewhere is everybody’s backyard.”

To try to ease the concerns of Potter and his constituents, the developer has hosted about six open-house meetings in the area to explain the project, which was first announced in April. The developer has also organized bus trips to existing wind farms so people could see and hear them in person. And the project has to go through an extensive permitting process, which includes public hearings.

The Vermont Public Service Board has already approved permits to build two temporary towers to measure the wind on the proposed site, said the board’s clerk, Susan Hudson. In doing so, board members rejected several motions of protest, such as one from the town of Clarendon about possible health and wildlife impacts.

The developer is now conducting engineering and environmental studies as it prepares the final designs, Wennberg said. He said they expect to apply for permits to build the turbines themselves by March 2010. After filing for permits, the process of public hearings takes about a year, he said. The Wind Farm is planned to be operational by late 2011.

“Quite frankly, quite a bit is still up in the air,” Wennberg said.

The town of Ira will hold a non-binding referendum on the issue, Potter said, though the date has not yet been scheduled.

Mike Novello, an analyst for Wagner Forest Management, confirmed that his firm manages some of the land but said he did not know — and, regardless could not say — on whose behalf.

Comments

  • jpeter

    Read Phyllis Austin’s article from the Maine Environmental News, “West Branch Project in Trouble,” where she states, “Yankee Forest’s identity was unveiled. Yankee was a for-profit subsidiary of Yale University’s endowment foundation, according to federal tax records.” The deed in Ira’ town clerks office notes the land is owned by Yankee Forest and managed by Wagner Forest Management company

  • use less

    Industrial wind turbines are a subsidized Enron scam that will do nothing to lower emissions or shut down any other type of generation.
    Clearing the forest canopy and building miles of 36 foot wide impervious surface roads on steep erodible soils and blasting and excavating for massive will destroy headwater streams, wetlands, and wildlife and human habitat.
    Property values will plummet. Many properties will be unsaleable. This amounts to a taking of peoples property without any compensation by a for profit, in this case foreign, LLC.
    Yale should put 425 foot towers in New Haven not in VT. where they will be rusting monuments to stupidity and greed.

  • rob pforzheimer

    Put 60 425 foot loud, ugly, inefficient, unreliable industrial turbines in New Haven, CT, NOT in VT.

  • The Count

    These comments do not surprise me one bit: Everybody is for the environment as long as somebody ELSE does something. Oh, well, back to fossil fuels.

  • Tanner

    Recently, driving through West Mass, Stockbridge, Pittsfield area I saw Wind Turbine doting the hillsides. I was thinking, but when will the outcry begin that these ugly metal monsters our ruining the view? Apperently they have begun. Following the outcry at Kennedyville (the vinyard) over wind turbines on the waters they sail. If there be a blight on the landscape I think Oil Platforms look much more interesting then Turbines and cell towers.

  • Green

    There is a reason people all over the world are complaining about big wind turbines. It’s not just about the view, or about not supporting renewable energy. The wind developers are working from the big oil, big gas playbook. In this case, the developer has provided false information to the regulators claiming he had leases in place when he didn’t, he hired experts who trespassed on private property and put up bird and bat monitoring equipment without landowner permission, and he has called the project “community wind” without working with the community in any way. The way the locals see it, an out of state landowner (Yale Endowment) is going to make a lot of money in conjunction with Enel, a $90 billion dollar Italian company, at the expense of the communities. Is this really how we want to develop renewable energy?

  • Lokel Yokel

    The thing that most folks don’t realize is that the number of homes that “can” be powered is based on what the dataplate says. Not what it will actually produce. About 3 miles from this proposed project in Ira, on a similar ridgeline in the 1940’s, a wind turbine ran at 17.7% of it’s dataplate output. Todays turbines are diferent, in that they have a wider range of operation. (cut in and cut out speeds) But I’d guess the wind is blowing the same as it was back then. So when ISO New England (Our Grid Manager) says we’ll see 25% of the rated output…I believe them. The North American Electrical Reliability Corp and also in a report prepared by General Electric: It is said that wind is the most variable and uncertain form of power generation. They show: That from both a daily and seasonal perspective, when demand is highest, wind is the lowest. What’s wrong with that? Well, since you can’t store it, you can’t depend on it to be there when you need it most. ISO-NE won’t commit to making a statement on the issue, but EON.Netz a German Grid manager says that 90% of the wind capacity must be available in the form of backup. Now..these are my words folks…What kind of backup?: “A spinning, ready to go, nuclear or fossil plant.” Grid managers don’t dare to actually let the requirements of the grid really “dig in” the wind capacity. (Those are my words too.) But I will say this, in a recent interview with our grid manager they wouldn’t confirm or deny that statement. If they could’ve stated it “false”. They would have! I notice China is going gangbusters with putting in wind..guess what..they have to build more coal plants to back them up. And they are. On another note all that stuff about noise and shadow flicker, it’s true. It will take you about 30 seconds to come up with credible accounts of this on youtube. (If you live near a wind turbine you actually WILL experience the sound they make when making “rated power”. Those of us who head out to visit the rest of the time will never hear it. The driving force behind the “pro-wind movement” is money. You’ve got the developers who will sell the carbon credits, reap the tax benefits and sell what little power they do make. And you’ve got the folks who they lease land from (both fairly easy to find and obvious, on Youtube.) Then there are those of us who subsize this “sham” with our tax dollars and higher power rates. Or worse..those who actually have to live with the behemouths right in their backyards. The payments made to the “host town” will never offset the depreciation on the home values. No matter what the developer tries to tell you,..people don’t want to live next to wind turbines! Then there is the unbelievable destruction that must be inflicted to get the crane roads in on these high ridgelines and the, as yet, unbuilt transmission lines to connect the remote sites to the folks that use the power. If your a regular guy, wind power is in no way, a good deal for you.

  • Joe Wireless

    I too have seen the Wind Turbines doting the hillsides of Western Ma. My outcry was silenced as I had no cell phone coverage…. damn it, no signal!

  • Hieronymus

    No coal! No nuclear! No wind!

    Well c’mon smartypanties: get to work in them thar sci-en-TIF-ik type classes and solve the solar conversion problem.

    Duh.. what?

  • Alum

    I love how the person arguing against this is smart enough to get to the point of “not in my backyard…but I suppose everywhere i somebody’s backyard” but his inner response to that little bit of introspection seems to be “but to hell with them.”

  • Lokel Yokel

    If my math is correct: Jeff Wennberg’s proposed-240,000 mw of power from (60) 2.5 mw wind turbines would be about 18.26% load factor. Not good enough to justify destroying anyone’s quality of life in New Haven, but good enough to justify wrecking our lives here in little old Ira.

  • Jeff Wennberg

    Once again, the misinformation machine is operating at full throttle. VCWF Never proposed to build 60 turbines. The current concept shows 45 potential sites and this is likely to be scaled back before a final design is determined.
    The arguments over capacity factor are meaningless. The question is will the facility generate enough electricity to make a meaningful contribution to the grid at a price that provides a benefit to the ratepayer? The answer is 240,000 MWh per year – enough to power over 25,000 Vermont homes; and if the cost of this power does not benefit ratepayers a permit will not be issued.
    The ‘spinning reserve’ argument is based upon a total misunderstanding of how power is dispatched. The bottom line, as confirmed by the state’s largest utility, the Public Service Department and ISO – New England (the outfit that operates the grid), every kilowatt hour of wind-generated power will replace fossil fuel generated power. Estimates based upon the Vermont generation mix indicate that the VCWF will prevent the release of 120,000 tons of CO2 annually – or 3 million tons over the 25-year life of the project.
    Most of the other objections are flatly untrue, and easily proven so by a personal visit to an operating wind farm. However, the aesthetic issue is real, if you find their appearance objectionable. But many folks see these turbines as elegant kinetic sculptures – it is a very subjective judgment and neither opinion is “right” or “wrong”.
    Finally, the New England Governors have endorsed a plan by ISO-New England calling for one-third of New England’s power to come from wind by 2030. The site in Ira and surrounding towns – which support the project – is an exceptional site based upon the wind resource, access to the grid, proximity to load, lack of critical environmental issues and separation from residences (minimum of ½ mile). If we are serious about replacing fossil generated electricity with renewables as endorsed by the Governors, we must find a way to responsibly develop exceptional sites like this one. Otherwise, there is no hope for any real progress in reducing GHG emissions and the other environmental, human health and national security harm caused by continued dependence on fossil fuels.

  • Tinmouth Channel Girl

    When you consider that the Searsburg towers at 198′ pictured here are only a fraction of the size of Vermont Community Wind Farm’s proposed towers at 400+’ it is not a good representation of the magnitude and massive destructive potential to our mountains. Even the 200′ wind monitoring towers will be a shocking intrusion. I grew up here as did my father and these mountains are home. But they belong to all Vermonters. This isn’t the first time that we have been met with those trying to exploit us like a 3rd world country to get rich and hope a few dollars will buy us off. We are smarter than that and know who the benefactors are…and it’s not us!

  • Big Ed

    Vermont has abundant supplies of real green energy, the majority coming from Hydro Quebec, none greener, and the rest from Vermont Yankee nuke that has a been clean reliable low pollution source for decades. Hydro Quebec actually has capacity to supply the entire state. Not to mention the opportunity for smaller local hydro projects in its wet and mountainous environment. If there was a need for energy production wind certainly isn’t a fit, wind in Vermont is all over the place and comes and goes in seconds. Its inefficiencies and sporadic supply is better for spots that have lots of prevailing winds and most important, that NEED all the alternatives they can muster. This project is not for local consumption either it is supposed to push electricity up to Burlington which is much closer to all the hydro power. Bottom line this misplaced travesty is nothing but a stimulus boondoggle, a me-too “green” project that is nothing but a money grab with huge foreign investors. Are they here to magnanimously supply us with power or take our money? Jeff Wennberg is a sad little wooden head who has become a puppet for pay, he has no real knowledge but touts the company line with enthusiasm like a used car salesman. Yale is a co-conspirator in this, the willful ignorance displayed by Mr. Macey is disturbing and employees, faculty and alumni should demand that Yale University take a serious position on the responsible use of their lands.

  • A Reader

    “Quite frankly, quite a bit is still up in the air,” Wennberg said.

  • Green

    Mr. Wennberg is exhibiting exactly the behavior that is resulting in widespread opposition to this project. Claims of “misinformation” and allegations that people’s concerns are “flatly untrue” show a complete disregard for the people. He seems to have become delusional claiming that surrounding towns support the project. Four members of West Rutland signed a lease agreement without any public input, which can hardly be called town support. This public relations person is spinning more than wind turbines would in Vermont. He is now saying in public that noise, lighting and health problems are not issues. Look on youtube, as people in this area are doing, and learn all about the problems with big wind turbines that are real and alarming to the people who live in the communities where outside developers are looking to make millions of dollars at the expense of the local people.

  • Bruce Anderson

    I am in total agreement with the above statements regarding Mr. Wennbergs statement that there are a lot of mistruths and misinformation. Unfortunately, our ( the communities residents ) research has shown the problem to be Vermont Community Wind Farm
    and their claims of benefit to us. When asked of the potential health problems at town meetings, their reply was simply ” we are not aware of any significant problems”. They sure have done their homework as far as the development of this project goes ( with the exception of a couple tresspass issues and installation of equipment without landowners permission or knowledge ) but they seem to lack any in depth study into the communities concerns. We simply do not want this mammoth project in our area. It will ruin the pristine ridgelines, devestate the wildlife, drop property values and shows total disregard for the residents wishes. All, so that a couple “big business” investors can make a quick profit. Without a government subsidy to help defer the expenses, this project would not even be feasible. Someone needs to explain to me how 4 million pounds of dynamite, clear cutting 5 acres for each turbine, devestating our mountain tops,and putting our health at risk, at an additional expense to us, is beneficial.

  • Vermontgirl

    The hired gun for this project, Jeff Wennberg, was once the mayor of Rutland City. At the time, Mr. Wennberg extolled the virtues of bringing a trash incinerator plant to the city. It was called Vicon. It was going to solve all the solid waste problems and bring in a huge influx of cash. Nevermind that Rutland City is in a valley surrounded by Killington and Pico Peaks as well as Susie’s Peak and Herrick Mountain. This smokestack industry would have destroyed the community. Luckily, wiser heads prevailed and Mr. Wennberg did not get his wish. Hopefully, wiser heads will again prevail and Mr. Wennberg will be forced to pedal his wind turbines elsewhere.

  • Another Vermontgirl

    Thank you so much for investigating this story and running this article. Yale’s investments have an impact on others and by leasing land without any knowledge as to what will happen on that land is derelict. The citizens of Ira and Clarendon should not shoulder the burden of an absentee landowner that does not care what happens to this pristine part of Vermont. When people think of wind turbines, they think of clean energy. But they may not think of the miles of roads that permanently scar the mountains to get the turbines to the top and then only to destroy the beauty of the ridgeline. These turbines are inefficient at best and the power generated from them will be sold on the grid to out of staters, and therefore there will be no cost benefit to Vters. Please reporters, follow this story.

  • Vermont Greenheart

    If this were, as the developer claims, a Vermont community wind project, I believe there would be full community support. But, the developers of this project in Ira have shown complete disregard for the communities directly affected by the development and are proposing a plan that is far from community based. I agree with the previous comment that the citizens of Ira, Clarendon and surrounding communities should not have to shoulder the burden of the impacts of an industrial-scale utility project supported and funded by absentee landowners, investors and hungry for-profit developers that have no interest or concern about the social, economic, or environmental impacts on the affected area.