Status of LivingFuture's Wind Case at Teal Farm
Timeframe and Cost of Proceedings
We first applied for a CPG (Certificate of Public Good—permit allowing renewable energy to be fed into the grid) from the Public Service Board in October 2006. We have now been in the application process for 16 months; an inordinate amount of time to have to wait for a net-metering permit. Further, we have incurred $80,000 in legal fees. Few others could or would have endured this effort and maintained their position through the machinations of the legal process. We have continued because we fear that if we don't prevail a damaging precedent will result–small wind projects like ours that do not obstruct primary viewsheds and are distant to adjacent residences (2000') will also be denied a CPG permit. This will have large repercussions for the advance of renewable energy in Vermont and greatly reduce the opportunity of Vermonters to generate wind energy for their homes and businesses.
Public Service Board's Consideration of Opposition's Aesthetic Claims
While we support the right of an individual to express his or her opinion, we feel the Public Service Board has erred by giving a supreme weight to a minor point of view: of Teal Farm's 32 adjacent landowners only Miles Prentice has opposed the project. Mr. Prentice is an absentee landowner who objects to a wind tower that is 2000 feet away from his house and not visible from within it. Further, the tower is in the opposite direction from his dominant panoramic views (the tower is to the east and Mr. Prentice's views are to the south and west - see photos below). Indeed, we feel that the proximity of the wind project to his property only enhances its value and does not burden its salability.
Our Legislative Response
In the summer of 2007 we testified before a joint meeting of the Natural Resources and Energy Committees from the Vermont House and Senate. In our presentation we emphasized the legal burden this case has had for us, the fact that we've needed to delay our project and the unfair weight the aesthetic claims of two individuals has had on our net-metering application. After our presentation, Robert Dostis, the chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, asked us to draft legislation that would clarify the role of aesthetics in permitting small wind. In conjunction with Andrew Perchlik, Executive Director of Renewable Energy Vermont, and Jean Vissering, a landscape architect whose expertise is in siting wind projects, we proposed changes to Title 30 Section 219 in Vermont Statutes. We suggested that there be a rebuttable presumption of no undue adverse aesthetic impact for small wind projects <150' in height if:
|– || the project does not interrupt distant vistas or scenic focal points for a public use area;|
|– || the project does not interrupt distant vistas or scenic focal points for primary indoor and outdoor living spaces in which the natural scenery is an important part of the experience;|
|– || the project is >1000' from public use areas and residences.|
We feel these statutory changes provide a clearer direction to the Public Service Board and how they consider, and give weight to, aesthetics in small wind net-metering applications like ours.
Summary of LivingFuture's Position
In sum, our position is this:
|– || our small wind project does not present an undue adverse aesthetic impact and those who claim it does represent a minor voice in our community;|
|– || our wind project enhances the public good by advancing renewable energy in the state and by putting ‘renewably-generated electricity’ into the grid;|
|– || it is unfair to expect farms like ours to take on legal battles like these (with their associated costs) to bring small wind to Vermont's working landscape. Rather, the Public Service Board, as directed by the state legislature, should support farm-based small wind and expedite the permitting process for us.|
View of tower from Trapp Road looking East from Prentice house.
Dominant views to SW from Prentice property
Teal Farm's Account of the Aesthetic Issues in its Wind Case
Objections to Wind Project at Teal Farm
Two parties are objecting to LivingFuture's installation of a residential-sized wind turbine on a 120' tower above Teal Farm. They are: Miles Prentice, a full-time New York resident who owns the adjacent 250 acres and a farmhouse (occupied by a caretaker) on Trapp Road which he visits, by his own admission, two to three times a year; and Dhyan Nirmegh, a Huntington resident who reports seeing the tower from his house more than two miles away. Their objections are:
1) The tower and proposed turbine are adversely visible to them;
2) There are other less-visible wind sites at Teal Farm where the turbine ought to be moved.
LivingFuture's Response to Objections
LivingFuture has responded to these objections with the following:
1) Tower and turbine are NOT adversely visible because:
|– || They are small, residential-sized units and they stand over 2000' from the house on Prentice's property (indeed, it was determined that the tower is not visible at all from inside the house);|
|– || The type of tower and turbine were chosen to blend in with the landscape given their muted black and grey colors;|
|– || They do not block focal scenic views. Note: while this is our opinion it is also the professional judgment of Jean Vissering, a landscape architect and author of Siting a Wind Turbine on Your Property: Putting Two Good Things Together–Small Wind Technology and Vermont's Scenic Landscape (published by the Vermont Public Service Board). Vissering is well-regarded as an expert consultant for wind projects region-wide.|
2) Renewable energy consultants have advised us that our chosen site–the Ridge Site, where the tower presently sits–is by far the best and only suitable site on the Farm for a wind turbine because:
|– || It receives unobstructed wind from the northwest and from the southeast, the directions with the most powerful and consistent wind.|
|– || Development of alternative sites (particularly the East Knoll Site on the Farm's landing strip) will significantly reduce (by approx. 22%) electricity production forcing us to reconsider our investment given the substantially different economic and energy return. Moreover, the East Knoll site is more turbulent than the Ridge Site; its irregular and fluctuating winds would stress the turbine's machinery and result in more frequent repairs and higher maintenance.|
|– || A Note to Huntington Residents: while many who know the Teal Farm property observe that the landing strip is a windy site, open to the North and South, it is directly blocked to the SE and the NW (the direction of prevailing winds) by hills (see topo map). The winds funnel through the valley formed by the hills, and while, to local observers, this might seem like a good thing for wind production, it is actually quite BAD, according to the experienced and well-respected wind expert we hired to do an on-site analysis prior to erecting the tower. This is due to the turbulence produced by winds as they ‘brush past’ the hills which is very damaging to equipment over time. While strong winds may funnel through periodically, the kind of wind necessary for good energy production is constant, flat, and unobstructed, thus the East Knoll site, (known as the “landing strip”), when analyzed by experienced wind engineers, is judged to be an outright poor wind site. Were this not the case, Teal Farm would gladly site the turbine on the East Knoll site.|
|– || Development of alternative sites on other hills would result in significant environmental impacts, including clear cuts and soil erosion, extensive new road infrastructure requiring blasting, as well as new visibility issues for other neighbors.|
Wind turbines should be sited where they generate the most power providing aesthetic concerns are not unduly adverse. The wind project at Teal Farm should be sited on the Farm's western ridge because it is the best and only accessible wind resource on the property and because claims about its aesthetic impact, while the opinion of two people, are not serious enough to outweigh the long-term benefits of the project to the community/public good, or the right of Teal Farm to harvest renewable energy from its property. The widespread support of the larger community for the project, as well as the fact that an overwhelming majority of neighbors DO NOT object to its aesthetics, should also prevail.
We, along with many individuals, legislators, and organizations (including Renewable Energy Vermont) believe that the aesthetic criteria in the CPG application process should be refined. Currently, the standards used to judge large wind developments are what set the tone for assessing a single, small turbine. While we wholly support thoughtful siting of wind turbines relative to their surroundings, most individuals will not install small wind if there is even the threat of objection from one neighbor—no matter how unreasonable.
By maintaining our legal position and by forwarding new legislation, we are helping the PSB identify clear and objective aesthetic guidelines for small wind projects. It is our goal that under these new guidelines, homeowners will clearly understand what criteria need to be satisfied to be assured a permit. As such, the CPG process will be less capricious and costly to individuals, will create a climate that encourages people who want to generate renewable energy, and will safeguard the process from unsubstantiated objections.
Timeline of Teal Farm Wind Turbine Project
||Discussion of wind energy at Teal Farm begins. Renewable energy consultants conduct preliminary site analysis|
||Renewable energy design is completed. It includes: 15 KW solar photovoltaic; 9 KW microhydro; 6 KW wind turbine; biodiesel generator back-up; battery storage. System will be off-grid.|
||Multiple conversations with Huntington Zoning Administrator and Teal Farm's General Contractor conclude that no permit is needed to install the wind tower and turbine. This conclusion is based on the <150 sq ft footprint of the tower and the absence of height restrictions in town zoning ordinances.|
||120' wind tower is installed on west-facing ridge at Teal Farm.|
||Miles Prentice, a NY resident and adjacent property owner contests Zoning Administrator's decision that no permit is needed for tower to go up.|
||Town Zoning Board hears arguments from Prentice and Teal Farm. Teal Farm argues that 1) we are in compliance with local zoning (no permit needed); 2) the wind tower is an accessory structure to our farm (like a silo or outbuilding); and 3) based on the zoning administrator's decision of “no permit needed” we made a significant investment, as any other homeowner would once they were told to proceed.|
||Town Zoning Board decides that because wind towers are not explicitly permitted in the town's ordinance they are therefore prohibited. ¹|
||Teal Farm appeals local ZBA decision to the Environmental Board.|
||Group net metering legislation passes in Vermont Legislature allowing individuals with excess electricity to sell that power to their neighbors.|
||Teal Farm's renewable energy consultants agree that a phased design is necessary to install the integrative energy system. This plan calls for a grid-tie system in the system's early phases due to the complexity of integrating four different renewable energy technologies. The opportunity to sell excess electrons to Teal Farm's neighbors via group net metering also plays a role in the decision to net meter.|
||Teal Farm applies for a Certificate of Public Good (CPG) from the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) to be a net-metered system. Application includes a visibility analysis by wind visibility expert Jean Vissering and is distributed to Teal Farm's 32 neighbors. Application is assigned to hearing officer Gregg Faber.|
||Only 1 adjacent property owner contests the application: Miles Prentice. Dhyan Nirmegh, a local resident, becomes a party to the proceedings.|
||PSB hearing officer Gregg Faber holds 2-day hearing on CPG application made by Teal Farm.|
||Gregg Faber releases his Proposal for Decision (PFD) in which Teal Farm is given a permit for a wind turbine but NOT at its existing location, the west-ridge. Faber proposes an alternative site 1 mile to the east which would produce significantly less wind power. In addition using that site would not change visibility effects overall and would cost $250,000 in road and other costs to develop. Teal Farm responds to the PSB that the PFD is in error and a technical hearing needs to be held on the feasibility of the alternative site.|
||PSB hold technical discovery on the feasibility of the alternative site.|
||Gregg Faber releases his revised PFD in which Teal Farm is given a CPG permit on the condition that the wind turbine is moved to the East Knoll site, approximately 0.5 mile from its current location on the west ridge.|
||Teal Farm formally comments on the revised PFD requesting that the PSB not require the tower location be moved given that overall visibility will not be lessened and electricity generation will be reduced by 20%. Teal Farm requests the PSB to conduct a site visit and hear oral arguments.|
||Teal Farm amends its CPG application from a 6KW Proven wind turbine to a 15KW Proven turbine. The change will result in 2.5 times more electricity generation for the farm and local consumers, and no change in the height of the project (135').|
||PSB considers Teal Farms amendment and will schedule a site visit and date for oral argument.|
||At the request of the Chair of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Robert Dostis, Teal Farm proposes legislative changes to Title 30 of Vermont State Statue Section 219 as part of Senate Bill 209. New rule would presume CPG permitting if small wind turbine (< 150' in height) is greater than 1000' from opposing neighbor. Legislation also includes clarifying language on which aesthetic claims have standing.|
||PSB does not accept Teal Farm's amendment for a larger turbine at the Ridge Site.|
||Vermont Legislature passes legislation that directs the PSB to conduct rule-making on the aesthetics of small wind turbines.|