Don and Shirley Nelson, neighbors and longtime opponents of Green Mountain Power Corp.’s Lowell wind turbines, have settled with the power company and will move away.
Green Mountain Power will pay the Nelsons $1.3 million for their 540-acre Albany property on the east side of Lowell Mountain, directly downhill from where the utility has installed 21 wind turbines. The Nelsons will retain 35 acres and have up to two years to remain on the property, the utility said Monday in a statement.
“The agreement meets the needs of the Nelsons as well as those of our customers,” Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dorothy Schnure said. “We believe that this settlement represents an opportunity for both to move forward.”
The Nelsons have fought various plans for installation of turbines on the mountain for a decade. The project finally came to fruition in 2011 when a neighboring landowner leased the ridgeline to Green Mountain Power and the town of Lowell voted to support the project. The project was completed in 2012.
The Nelsons’ land on Bayley Hazen Road has been in the family for 72 years and is where Don Nelson grew up. After the wind project was completed, the couple complained that the noise from the turbines made them ill and disputed the company’s noise measurements that showed them to be within standards set by the state.
The couple, who are retired dairy farmers, said Monday in a written statement that they plan to move “well away” from the turbines. They said they realized that the turbines would never be removed.
During the planning stages for the project, the Nelsons said they turned down an offer from Green Mountain Power to buy their property for $1.25 million, countering with $2.25 million that the utility rejected.
In 2011, Don Nelson said, “After 40 years of working, if you had to sell to someone who wanted to destroy what you built, would you? They’re changing the character of the Northeast Kingdom.”
Green Mountain Power sued the Nelsons for failing to keep protesters away. The Nelsons countersued, contesting the property boundary. Monday’s agreement will settle the still-pending court cases. As crews began blasting on the mountaintop to make room for the turbines’ concrete pads in 2011, the Nelsons tried unsuccessfully to persuade a judge to halt blasting and declined to deter protesters who sympathized with them. Six protesters were later arrested.
Ridge Protectors, a group of sympathizers, issued a statement Monday in support of the couple, saying they were forced off their property by a foreign-owned corporation in reference to Green Mountain Power’s Canadian owner, Gaz Metro. “Yes, they were paid for that property, but money runs a poor second to beauty, peace, quiet and a love for your land,” the group said.
Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who worked with the Nelsons in their opposition, said the Nelsons tried unsuccessfully to find another use for their property once the turbines were built. “Green Mountain Power’s robbed it of its value,” she said. “There’s really no alternative.”
Smith said the Nelsons offered to sell the property to Green Mountain Power and then have it donated to nearby Sterling College, but the utility declined.
Schnure declined to say how the $1.3 million additional cost would affect the cost-benefit of the project or discuss other issues related to the settlement beyond the written statement the company issued Monday. “That’s all we’re really saying,” she said.
Smith wondered how the settlement would affect the rates Green Mountain Power charges customers.
Smith said the Nelsons’ fight shows that those who are affected by renewable energy projects can find no relief from state agencies. “The solution is get a lawyer and sue. It’s the only hope,” she said.
The turbines are designed to generate 63 megawatts of power, or enough electricity for the needs of about 24,000 Vermont homes.