An election issue in Vermont

The future of wind energy in Vermont became a major issue in the state's race for governor, with Republican incumbent James Douglas urging "caution" and Democratic challenger Peter Clavelle, mayor of the state's largest city, Burlington, supporting the construction of "five to ten wind farms" throughout the state.

Vermont is considered one of the most environmentally progressive states in the country, with strict conservation laws. Wind energy has become one of the most important -- and divisive -- issues. According to Douglas, many Vermonters believe wind turbines would be "a blight on the ridgelines of our state and impair the natural beauty for which Vermont is known," Before projects are built, he says, the state should develop comprehensive state-wide policies. Douglas has close ties to wind opponents in the state's Northeast Kingdom, a region where opposition to wind projects has grown considerably over the last several years.

In contrast, challenger Clavelle says the state should move ahead quickly and perform its part in developing renewable energy in America. "It's more about the vision...than the view," according to Clavelle, coining a slogan used by Clean Power Now, an advocacy group which supports wind development in New England and elsewhere in the country.

Controversy still surrounds plans for four 1.5 MW turbines on a mountain in the Northeast Kingdom, proposed by the owner of the site, Matthew Rubin. He hopes to eventually erect 50 turbines, but scaled down his initial request in response to strong opposition to wind projects in the region. The site contains a number of derelict buildings abandoned by the US military after the Cold War, but much of the surrounding region is in a semi-wild state. The four turbines would also be visible from a number of wildlife refuges, state parks and other public lands.

The Vermont Public Service Board has ordered that the state's Agency of Natural Resources and the Nature Conservancy of Vermont be allowed to perform research at the site. Rubin says this means he will not be able to erect the turbines until 2006.