Windmills would bring windfall to Sheffield
Published: Sunday, June 11, 2006
By Tim Johnson
Free Press Staff Writer
Six months after Sheffield voters favored a controversial wind farm proposal, the town has settled on a price.
It’s roughly a half-million dollars a year, to be paid by the wind-farm company if the project is built, and it would drop the town’s municipal tax rate by more than half. The company’s proposal calls for 20 turbines on ridgelines in Sheffield and six in the neighboring town of Sutton.
Sutton, where voters overwhelmingly nixed the idea on Town Meeting Day, apparently still want no part of it. No financial negotiations are under way with the company, UPC Vermont Wind.
To proceed with the project, the company needs a certificate of public good from the Vermont Public Service Board. The board has received UPC’s application and has scheduled a series of public and evidentiary hearings extending into early next year. The first public hearing was in April in Sheffield. The next one is set for June 26 in Sutton. The board also plans to make a site visit June 26.
The agreement between UPC and Sheffield was announced last week. It provides for UPC to pay the town between $400,000 and $550,000 per year in taxes and "mitigation payments" if the project is built as planned. That would drop the municipal tax rate by about 55 percent.
Sheffield’s total taxes raised in 2005 amounted to $755,138, according to the town’s annual report. The precise amount of the payment will depend on the assessment of the property, but $400,000 is the minimum.
In a nonbinding ballot Dec. 1, Sheffield residents voted in favor of the proposed wind project, 120-93. Max Aldrich, chairman of Sheffield’s Selectboard, said Thursday that the project would mean a "substantial change" in the town and that residents and taxpayers deserve adequate compensation.
Aldrich acknowledged that some residents of Sheffield still oppose the plan. Although the proposal has generated lots of emotional rhetoric, he said, "What it boils down to is aesthetics." If you can’t stand the sight of the turbines, he said, you’re likely to oppose them, but if you can put up with seeing them, and get a tax break in the bargain, you're more likely to favor them.
Sutton voters rejected the proposal in their advisory vote by a ratio of about 6 to 1. Sutton is not interested in negotiating for financial compensation, said Robert Michaud, chairman of the town Planning Commission. He pointed out that the town plan prohibits commercial development on ridgelines.
One reason for the level of opposition in Sutton, Michaud suggested, is the degree of visibility. The turbines would be "right on our border," he said. "There's hardly a place in Sutton where you won't be able to see them."
Aldrich said the turbines would be visible to many residents of Sheffield, too.
According to UPC, 3,000 acres of timberland in both towns are under agreement as part of the project. Of that, 119 acres would be cleared during construction for roads, substation and turbine sites; and 104 acres would be allowed to "re-vegetate," leaving 14 acres permanently cleared. The turbines would be 398 feet tall and would generate 52 megawatts of electricity, with an average annual output "equal to 2-3 percent of Vermont’s load, or the energy needs of 15,000-20,000 homes," a company Web site states.
UPC Vermont Wind has an office in St. Johnsbury; it was founded in 2003 by principals of UPC Wind Partners of Newton, Mass.
Contact Tim Johnson at 660-1808 or email@example.com