UPC Wind Management Development hired Burlington-based Spike Advertising to create a print advertisement blitz, to gather supporters by going door-to-door handing out "fact sheets," and to form a "Friends of Sheffield Wind Farm" grassroots support group to talk to neighbors.
SHEFFIELD – Two weeks before of a nonbinding public opinion vote on a multi-million dollar wind project proposed for Sheffield and Sutton mountain ridges, UPC Wind Management Development is trying a little Madison Ave magic to drum up support.
About four weeks ago, UPC hired Burlington-based Spike Advertising to create a print advertisement blitz, to gather supporters by going door-to-door handing out “fact sheets,” and to form a “Friends of Sheffield Wind Farm” grassroots support group to talk to neighbors. The hope is that the effort will deliver a “yes” vote at the polls on Dec. 1, said Erik Filkorn of Spike Advertising on Monday.
The utility scale wind project calls for up to 35 nearly 400-foot wind turbines along mountain ridgeline acres shared by the scenic and rural towns of Sheffield and Sutton, which are located northwest of Lyndonville. East Montpelier-based Washington Electric Cooperative is partnering in the project and will receive some of the power.
An opposition group has been prominently visible and vocal, but a small group of supporters has grown from about three members to over a dozen and may be growing, thanks to professional help by Spike Advertising.
“I’m a p.r. (public relations) guy and I’m on the select board in Richmond,” Filkorn said, adding, “I know about campaigning.” A strong supporter of wind energy, Filkorn has an anemometer on his property and said he hopes to install a wind turbine soon.
Filkorn said he was also responsible for organizing former state senator Scudder Parker’s Democratic gubernatorial campaign launch in Richmond Oct. 28, as a volunteer. Filkorn, formerly of California, has handled publicity for musicians Stevie Wonder, Henry Rollins and Michelle Shocked, he said. His employer, Spike Advertising, owned by Kenneth Millman, does advertising and publicity for Northfield Savings Bank, Waitsfield and Champlain Valley Telecom, and others.
He has made several visits to the Northeast Kingdom, including home visits and just sitting at the Miss Lyndonville Diner. Filkorn said much of his work for UPC has been finding out who the local supporters are and channeling their efforts into an organized group. He advises them on how to conduct meetings, spread information and knock on doors without offending homeowners, he said.
The Public Relations company has also set up a telephone hotline and hired Leila LaRosa, a Sheffield resident who supports the wind project, to answer questions. She also calls Sheffield residents, gives them information favoring the project and helps organize the support group.
LaRosa lives off the electric grid on land abutting property sited for one of the proposed wind turbines, she said. She is also a biologist who owns a dog sledding company.
While LaRosa now supports the wind turbine project, she started out as an opponent, she said. When she first learned of the plans she attended meetings organized by opponents to get as much information as she could, but her father, who works in the renewable energy industry, provided her with material supporting wind energy, and ultimately swayed her opinion, she said.
She did as much independent research as she could and concluded losing ridgeline to wind towers is outweighed by the promised 40 to 50 megawatts of power.
“The Sheffield Wind Farm will produce clean, renewable power for 15,000 to 20,000 households,” a recent ad in the local newspaper for UPC by Spike Advertising states. She gets a weekly stipend for her efforts, but working for UPC has taken its toll on her personal life. Her husband strongly opposes the project and sometimes they clash, she said.
“I did encounter some split households,” according to Filkorn, who acknowledged LaRosa’s situation, adding, “I wouldn’t be in this work if I wasn’t a true believer.”
The small core of supporters are apparently true believers as well. The “Friends” group met for the second time Monday at Garth and Cheryl Chesley’s Sheffield home, but a reporter was told to stay away.
“I think there is an upsurge in support,” Simons said. “A lot of people just kept quiet.”
Tim Caffyn, project manager with UPC, said he, too, is hopeful about gaining more support. When he started the project, townspeople gave him the impression about 80 percent of townspeople supported the plan, but opponents contradicted that figure, saying close to 70 percent of Sheffield voters don’t want wind.
The public vote Dec. 1 will settle the battle of opinion, and allow selectmen to see which side comes out more strongly. Caffyn sounded cautiously optimistic and said he believes opponents overestimated their numbers.
“I think there has been a shift,” Caffyn said. “I think there are a lot of people who support renewable energy and a lot of them want to see a commercial tax base in town.”
Caffyn praised Vermonters for making decisions using common sense, and said Vermont really needs the power to replace long-term contracts lost in the wake of the expiration of contracts with Hydro Quebec and Yankee Nuclear Power.
“Our biggest problem is that opponents are much more (likely to come out and vote),” Caffyn said.
The Sheffield Planning Commission meets to discuss the topic Thursday, Nov. 17.
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