MILTON — The neighbors gathered in Dan and Tina FitzGerald’s kitchen had a list of grievances about five wind turbines proposed for the mountain in his backyard. The list began with this: A fear their voices will not be listened to.
“We feel there is a tremendous amount of money stacked up against us,” said Darlene Ross, who would have a view of the turbines from her home on Arrowhead Lake.
“Because we aren’t professionals, our opinions wouldn’t be considered,” added Melodie McLane, referring to technical hearings to be held by the state Public Service Board.
The Harrison family, owners of a local concrete and construction business, have asked the PSB to approve the five 400-foot-tall turbines atop Georgia Mountain in the towns of Milton and Georgia.
Georgia Mountain is the first commercial wind energy project to be proposed in Chittenden County. If built, the project would have a capacity of up to 12 megawatts, although — because generation is dependent on the wind — it would operate at perhaps a third of that capacity over time.
To Ross, McLane and other opponents, the turbines mean noise, a despoiled ridgeline and lower property values. Worst of all, they say, the wind project would destroy the rural atmosphere they sought when they moved to the woods and fields north of Milton village.
“We were excited to buy a house on a quiet, dead-end road,” said Erica Berl, who moved to Georgia Mountain Road from Massachusetts. “A big attraction was that we are zoned recreational, for 20-acre lots. It’s a betrayal to put up 40-story wind turbines.”
Berl, Ross and McLane do not represent the only view of the proposed project.
The Harrisons have the support of some local residents. Deb Woodward, vice chairman of the Georgia Selectboard, said her board has decided to remain neutral because public opinion at an informational meeting in April seemed “evenly divided.”
The neighbors gathered at Dan FitzGerald’s home are not deterred.
In recent weeks they have organized themselves as Citizens for the Preservation of Georgia Mountain. They have gathered studies of wind project impacts in other states as well as the testimony of unhappy wind turbine neighbors elsewhere. They have distributed informational flyers urging “Say No! to the Georgia Mountain Wind Farm,” and circulated petitions urging their selectboards to oppose the project.
A public hearing is scheduled June 9 in Georgia. Later, the PSB will hold technical hearings to weigh the potential benefits of the project against its potential impact on neighbors and the environment.
Jim Harrison, head of the family proposing the Georgia Mountain project, has estimated the family will have invested up to $800,000 in preparing to seek PSB approval.
Much of the money has been spent on technical studies of the potential impacts of the turbines, including impacts on noise, wildlife and aesthetics.
The Harrisons will tell the PSB that Vermont needs more renewable energy sources, that surveys have found majority support for wind energy among Vermonters and that their studies found no adverse effects that would bar construction of the turbines.
Opponents beg to differ.
First, they say, the wind turbines on Georgia Mountain would produce relatively little electric power while having a potentially damaging effect on their lives.
They point to studies in Texas and Ontario that found that property values decreased 20 percent or more in areas near wind turbines. They cite studies that have found chronic sleep disturbance from noise and vibration in some people who live near utility-scale turbines.
“For me, it’s quality of life,” said Darlene Ross. “These turbines can cause headaches, dizziness even from a ridge two or three miles away. How can one developer take away my quality of life?”
She added. “Nobody is going to want to buy my house if I’m suffering health effects.”
Tina FitzGerald, Dan’s wife, said, “The real fear is, do you sell now and get out, or wait and see what happens? You could end up stuck.”
She and the other opponents would wish to hire the lawyers and experts they would need to make their case at PSB technical hearings.
But that would cost money Citizens for the Preservation of Georgia Mountain doesn’t have.
Opponents of a 16-turbine project in Sheffield spent about $750,000 making their case. They lost before the PSB, which approved the project last year. The opponents appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court and lost.
Citizens for Preservation of Georgia Mountain hopes to persuade their selectboards to take on the job of opposing the project. So far, that hasn’t happened.
“We don’t have enough clout,” said Scott McLane.
Members of the group note with some bitterness that the Harrisons won a $75,000 state renewable energy grant last month to help develop their project.
“There are plenty of grants for them to go out and hire experts,” said software consultant Andy Thompson, Berl’s husband. “What about us?”
Contact Candace Page at 660-1865 or firstname.lastname@example.org