A proposal to erect two commercial wind turbines in Irasburg is drawing local opposition. But the developer, David Blittersdorf, says the project would benefit the entire state.
Bittersdorf is well known in energy circles as a designer of wind testing systems and the owner of AllEarth Renewables, which makes solar trackers. Blittersdorf also developed the Georgia Mountain wind farm. He lives in Charlotte, but he’s built a log cabin on Kidder Hill, in the Northeast Kingdom town of Irasburg.
“I bought the land because I always wanted a mountaintop place, as a kid, and I always liked being high up,” he says, looking out his lofty living room window at Jay Peak.
Blittersdorf’s cabin is powered by two 100-foot wind turbines. Now he wants to add two much larger turbines that he says will generate enough power for 2,000 homes. He says new, lower wind speed systems allow sites like this to become profitable. Blittersdorf says that was a revelation for him more than a year after he tested his site for wind speed.
“Here I am in my log cabin. Huh! The technology changed, and now I could at least break even or make a profit by putting in a small community wind farm,” he explains.
With the older technology, he says this new commercial project would probably have bankrupted him.
Each turbine would be about 500 feet high, base to blade tip – visible from many parts of Irasburg. Blittersdorf expects to sell 90 percent of the 5 megawatts to Green Mountain Power, and would like to reserve the rest for local consumption, though that would require a change in state net metering law. Blittersdorf says even Vermont's most scenic towns need to allow wind power to replace fossil fuels.
Outdoors on his deck not far from his 100-foot turbine, Blittersdorf uses a cell phone app to measure the noise level.
“Hmm. Fifty. So it’s 5 decibels more than by law I can do with the big ones. I hear – we hear – something that’s higher sound level than the big turbines would be,” he says.
He says he would never site other turbines as close to homes as this one is to his, but the sound does not bother him. In fact, he kind of likes hearing the hum of renewable power.
But others feel differently about that. On this same afternoon, a few miles away from this cabin, four opponents are meeting to figure out if they can keep any more turbines from rising in their town.
Michael Sanville, a hospital administrator, says he and his wife are, “tied up in knots” about what they see as health effects of wind turbines noise. He strongly opposes Blittersdorf 's proposal, which he says blindsided Irasburg residents.
“And the whole democratic process has been circumvented because of a technicality in the law that does not necessarily clarify the differences between the processes of residential and industrial wind," says Sanville. "That, to me, is a travesty."
Another hurdle for the opponents is that Irasburg has no zoning. That means the Public Service Board has no local restrictions to factor into its decision-making process. So the town is planning a referendum vote this month.
Meanwhile, the Irasburg selectboard has complained to the PSB that Blittersdorf’s wind test tower, erected in 2010, should have had a state permit. But the developer says he did not need permission for a test tower originally built only for residential use.