First Wind cuts ribbon at Sheffield, boosting Vermont's wind capacity by more than 600%

It's been a long and arduous struggle, but there were plenty of smiling faces yesterday as First Wind cut the ribbon marking the beginning of operation at its 40-MW wind project in Sheffield, VT. The Sheffield wind farm is by far the largest in Vermont, and the first installed in the Green Mountain State since the pioneering 6.05-MW Searsburg project in 1996.

While the mood was upbeat among the 200-plus attendees who packed into a tent beneath Turbine #4 for some speechifying and lunch, there was also a strong theme of both relief and pride among First Wind  spokespeople–relief at finishing a lengthy, difficult permitting process, and pride at completing what they described as a groundbreaking project in terms of environmental sensitivity. The company's Environmental Manager, Josh Bagnato, commented that the environmental innovations incorporated into the project will “serve as a template for the style of wind farm that can be developed in Vermont, a state where local environmental concerns are keenly felt.

Added Bagnato, “Eight years ago, First Wind identified this location, at a time when the company had no projects and 20 employees.  This area, Sheffield Heights, was desirable because of its strong winds, proximity to transmission, and closeness to I-91. And so we designed a proposed project, and redesigned it, and redesigned it, and redesigned it again.  Today we have 200 employees and projects in five states, and work finally started last winter.  We finished in late September, and became operational last Wednesday [Oct. 19], and the predicted winds of Sheffield Heights are blowing strongly.”

The project consists of 16 Clipper Windpower 2.5-MW turbines, Bagnato said, and will generate enough electricity on average to power 15,000 Vermont homes.  At the peak of construction, more than 200 people were working at the site. The town of Sheffield will receive $10 million in tax revenues from the project over its 20-year life.

First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor echoed the environmental-innovation theme, noting that the Sheffield project was accompanied by an agreement to conserve 2,700 acres of land from development for the life of the project, that its wetland impact is only 1/10 of an acre, and that it avoided moose and bear habitat. He also underlined that the project was “made in Vermont, for Vermonters”: “The people that did the heavy lifting are Vermonters–staff, consultants, lawyers, landowners, state agencies, and environmental advocacy groups.  And all of the projects power is being sold to Vermont utilities under a long-term fixed price that will bring rate stability to their customers.

“We'd like to thank our numerous project partners, including our utility power buyer partners, along with all of our supporters within the local community and throughout Vermont for helping us move this beneficial project forward.”

A traditional fossil-fuel plant of the same scale as the Sheffield project would burn 61,000 tons of coal or about 221,000 barrels of oil per year, First Wind said in a press release accompanying the event.

It was a great day for wind power in Vermont.  Below are some photos.

First Wind banner sets a tone for the ribbon-cutting

        First Wind CEO Paul Gaynor addresses the crowd

Giant scissors are put to use

       Attendees were invited to sign the banner

Turbine #4: What it's all about

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