“She must really like this event and what we’re doing for a change,” Grimes told the assembled crowd.
The afternoon event served as the company’s official welcome to the communities of Milton and Georgia, where its four 2.5-megawatt turbines straddle a shared ridgeline.
Georgia Wind went online in December and, at full power, produces 8 percent of Burlington Electric’s energy needs, fueling one-third of those residents’ homes, said Ken Nolan, BED’s manager of power resources and a Milton resident.
Visitors shuttled up the mountain to enjoy the sunshine, free Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and the views, both natural and man-made. Attendees of all ages pointed cameras skyward, trying to capture all three 164-foot blades in one frame.
“This is an opportunity to have folks see it and feel it and touch it and listen to it,” Project Manager Martha Staskus said. Indeed, a long line to see the inner control panel snaked across the pad side for Turbine 3, the one at highest elevation.
The fete was mostly celebratory, with few political remarks punctuating speeches.
Co-owner David Blittersdorf, founder of AllEarth Renewables, said six years was too long to build the project.
“When it takes longer to permit a project than to fight a world war, we have a real problem,” he said.
“Our modern society stops without energy,” he continued. “If we don’t do something, we’re committing our society to suicide.”
For Blittersdorf, that solution isn’t storage: There’s much talk of building a battery to store intermittent power output, but Blittersdorf says the 100-plus-year-old transmission system will change when renewable developers force it to.
Paul Burns, director of environmental advocate VPIRG, defended wind from common criticisms about curtailment, when grid operators shut down irregular producers, typically renewables, for the sake of a stable grid.
“They are fixing that problem already in the Northeast Kingdom,” he said.
VPIRG wants Vermont to be 25 percent wind-powered by 2025 with “a relatively small number of turbines,” Burns said. According to VPIRG calculations, that number is 126 3-megawatt towers, running at 33 percent capacity.
Blittersdorf is convinced the majority of Vermonters want ridgeline wind, despite voices of opposition that still ring from the mountaintop. One neighbor gave a thumbs down to a bus full of passengers headed up the hill.
But the majority of last Sunday’s guests were visibly impressed with the 400-plus-foot towers, which Blittersdorf estimated were running between 25 and 50 percent capacity.
Chris, Peter and Rita Lavallee of Milton all stopped by to see the sights. Chris, 23, a recent environmental studies graduate from St. Michael’s College, thinks Georgia Wind is a good contribution to the state’s renewable portfolio.
Lavallee now works with Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility, and runs efficiency challenges for companies. He studied abroad in Europe, where he saw wind and solar fully integrated into the landscape – though not sited atop mountains.
“I don’t think they look too bad,” Lavallee said of Georgia’s turbines. “It’s just four little windmills; why not?”
North Road resident Cheryl Alwine marveled at the towers’ scope.
“The perspective of the turbines above the ridgeline just really shrinks the whole size of the mountain,” she said. “I can’t wrap my brain around it.”
Project founder and landowner Jim Harrison attended the event with his wife, Janet. They both spoke of how Georgia Wind was an adventure for their family and a dream come true.
“We’re just trying to make this a better place,” Jim Harrison said.
The commissioning ceremony closed with brief remarks from Milton Fire Chief Don Turner, Sen. Bernie Sanders’ staffer Harper Gay and Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith (D-Morrisville), who said the “community” part of Georgia Wind’s name was apt, given the event’s attendance.
Merchants Bank President and CEO Michael Tuttle wished Georgia Wind well.
“Let’s hope a fair wind continues to blow upon this community for many years to come,” he said.
View more photos from the open house by clicking below. All photos by Courtney Lamdin/Milton Independent unless otherwise noted.