The 15-turbine Deerfield Wind project has begun generating power, capping a permitting and construction process that spanned more than a decade.
"Avangrid Renewables began commercial operation at its newest wind farm, and first in Vermont, the Deerfield Wind Farm, in the towns of Readsboro and Searsburg today," the developer announced Friday morning.
The 30-megawatt facility includes eight Siemens Gamesa turbines located west off Route 8 in Readsboro and seven others in Searsburg, east of the highway.
Those in Searsburg are on the same side of the mountain ridge as Green Mountain Power's smaller, 11-turbine facility, which began operating in 1997.
The new wind farm also is the first in the nation to be located on U.S. Forest Service land.
"This project in concept has been at the forefront of our program of work for many years," John Sinclair, forest supervisor for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests, said in a release. "Today we are proud to recognize the dedicated USFS employees, local leaders, partners and government agencies that have contributed countless hours of work toward making the development of our nation's first commercial-scale wind energy facility on National Forest System lands a reality here in Vermont."
The project faced determined opposition while gaining a certificate of public good from the state Public Utility Commission in 2009, and later challenges over the use of national forest lands for a wind farm and over potential environmental impacts to wildlife and a nearby wilderness area.
"This is a sad day for many Vermonters and people who care about wildlife and value the importance of wilderness," said Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which mounted a court challenge over impacts on the nearby George D. Aiken Wilderness Area.
Smith and other opponents of commercial-size wind projects also protested the Deerfield Wind groundbreaking ceremony in September 2016.
Despite more recent complaints filed with the state Department of Public Service over blasting for the project and over the parking of heavy construction vehicles along Route 8, the project came close to meeting its estimated construction schedule of substantial completion by October 2017.
Avangrid Renewables on Friday lauded the power generation and positive financial impacts of the project, including creation of nearly 200 jobs at the peak of construction and millions of dollars of local spending.
"We are able to celebrate this milestone because of the hard work of our many partners, especially at the local level," said Dave Carroll, vice president of projects for Avangrid Renewables. "Working with the U.S. Forest Service and the local communities means we're able to create clean energy and local economic benefits in rural Vermont."
Construction spending has totaled roughly $7.5 million locally to date, the developer said. More than 25 New England-based companies worked on the wind farm, including 11 from Vermont, supplying a range of services.
Annual payments to Readsboro and Searsburg are expected to total $6.8 million over the life of the project, and the wind farm is expected to generate an estimated $6 million in tax payments to the state to support education funding, the developers said.
"This project took a long time, but will deliver big benefits for everyone in Searsburg," said town board member and town energy coordinator Mike Johnson. "It's a giant boost for clean energy, and we believe the winds of time will prove their worth."
"We are thankful for a job well done," said Helyn Strom-Henriksen, the Select Board chairwoman in Readsboro. "We are looking forward to the positive impacts this project will have on the area."
Green Mountain Power has a 25-year agreement to purchase the power generated at the facility, which the developer said could supply the power needs of about 14,000 homes. Avangrid Renewables will own and operate the wind farm.
Taller than the wind turbines that began generating in the 1990s, the tips of the rotor blades on the new turbines reach from 400 to 430 feet from the ground at the highest point in their turning radius, officials said.
In 2009, the developer received a certificate of public good for the project and received a special use permit from the Forest Service to develop the project on national forest lands. However, in 2012 Vermonters for a Clean Environment appealed to U.S. District Court the Forest Service's decision allowing the developer to build in the national forest. The organization contended the Forest Service violated federal environmental law by not sufficiently studying the environmental impacts of the project, but the court rejected that appeal in a decision issued in late 2014.
Smith said on Friday: "The Deerfield Wind project is a good example of how to do renewable energy wrong: in a remote location, far from load, in critical bear habitat, next to a wilderness area, the attributes of which will be degraded due to the noise and lighting that will penetrate the wilderness and violate the very definition and purpose of setting aside the George D. Aiken Wilderness for generations."
The Forest Service has said it began the search for a suitable site by looking at 37 possible parcels in the Green Mountain National Forest before selecting an area near the GMP wind farm in Searsburg.
Avangrid Renewables, LLC, is a subsidiary of Avangrid Inc. and part of the Spain-based Iberdrola Group.
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