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Hundreds drawn to futuristic sight

Hundreds of sightseers have flocked to see construction of what will be the largest wind farm in the eastern United States, futuristicly sited amongst coniferous forests atop Searsburg Mountain, Vermont. Tours were set up and the reaction from most highly favourable The turbines look futuristic amongst the surrounding coniferous forests

Hundreds of fascinated sightseers have flocked to the construction site of what will be the largest wind farm in the eastern United States, being built high atop Searsburg Mountain in Vermont. The turbines, with their black blades and white 40 metre towers, look futuristic amongst the surrounding coniferous forests.

Eleven of Zond's Z-40 turbines are being installed by Green Mountain Power Corp. By October 21, eight of the 550 kW turbines were in the ground. The remainder of the $10.4 million project was to be up by the end of October, if the weather holds.

It is unclear exactly why the wind plant, in a remote location some distance from the nearest city, is attracting such interest. It is smaller than many of those in California and it was chosen to be relatively hidden visually for aesthetic reasons. The timing of construction has undoubtedly been a major factor. New England's famous autumn foliage peaked last month when most of the turbines were being installed. Hundreds of thousands of tourists travel to New England to view the red, yellow and orange fall leaves.

Spruce and pine trees that are 25 to 30 feet high surround the site, says Green Mountain Power consultant John Zimmerman. Tree clearing was minimised to keep the "foot-print" of the plant as small as possible because the area is a corridor for black bears. Trees will be allowed to grow back afterwards as much as possible, he says. A 50 foot wide strip was also cut for the power line and access road -- but again the trees will be allowed to return except for a 13 to 14-foot wide access lane.

The level of interest from ordinary people, both local and from out of state, has surprised those involved in the plant. So many interested people were arriving, a decision was made to offer tours of the construction, says Zimmerman. The reaction from most visitors has been highly favourable, he adds, although he points out that those who seek out the wind farm hardly constitute a cross-section of the public even in green-conscious Vermont.

The $10.4 million project was funded partly by a Department of Energy and Electric Power Research Institute utility verification grant of $3.5 million. Green Mountain Power (GMP) invited the media and public to view the project just after the first turbine was installed. Norm Terreri, GMP's executive vice president, calls the facility the culmination of more than ten years effort that included GMP's pilot wind plant at Mount Equinox near Manchester, Vermont.

"The construction going on here in Searsburg is absolute proof that when utilities are willing to take the lead, wind power and other renewable resources can be developed successfully," says Terreri, also president of the American Wind Energy Association. One resident of Searsburg on a tour of the site, Frank Pulaski, told reporters: "I like the look if it, to tell you the truth." The retired engineer added, "Pollution-free energy is really something to look at."

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