They voted 120-93 in favor of a project in which 26 400-foot wind turbines would be erected on mountain ridges in Sheffield and neighboring Sutton.
Signs dotted the roads leading to the center of town both for and against the project.
"We know that this project has a lot of supporters," said Paul Gaynor, CEO of UPC Wind Management, which wants to build the windmills. "The select board wanted to take the pulse of the town."
Opponents had hoped that a negative vote would send a signal to the state as the Public Service Board considers the Sheffield project and others pending, but some were resigned to the outcome after the meeting.
"It’s a very appealing thing and wind power is a good thing, but not necessarily for here," Shirley Wagner said.
Opponents worked hard to defeat the idea, even though the vote was nonbinding, because they believed it would send a message about how small, rural towns view the construction of such large industrial projects in their communities.
"We feel that the industrialization of the ridgelines is very inappropriate for Vermont," said Frances Hersey Vos, a member of the opposition group Ridge Protectors. "It’s out of scale."
Supporters say the owners of the mountaintops have a right to do what they want with their land. They also say the wind farm would produce clean, renewable energy at a time when the country needs new sources of power, and would generate tax revenues for the town.
Vermont has used other people’s oil for years, said Jack Simons. "It’s about time that we give something back," he said.
Opponents say the tiny town of Sheffield, 17 miles north of St. Johnsbury with 720 residents, is not responsible for the nation’s energy problems.
"We do not have acres and acres of lit-up malls and trophy house after trophy house," Vos said.
The debate has divided the small community for months, evidenced by a sign in town that says "Real Vermonters Can’t be Bought."
There ended up being no opportunity for debate at Thursday’s town meeting. Voters decided not to allow any presentations from opponents or supporters and the issue went directly to a decision.
Dolores Ham said that was what made her vote in favor. She was undecided going into the meeting and wanted to hear from both sides. When that didn’t happen she decided at the last minute to vote in favor of the project. "It was spur of the moment," she said.
Supporters said their decision made a statement about the importance of renewable energy.
"I think people should see where their electricity comes from and maybe they’ll think twice about leaving the lights on when they’re not home, when they have the windmills on the hill for a reminder," said Jenny Cleary, who voted in favor of UPC’s project.
The company from Newton, Mass., has a number of wind projects in operation in Italy, producing 635 megawatts of electricity. It is building another in Hawaii and it is pursuing projects in New York, Maine and New Hampshire. It has said it expects to apply formally for the Vermont project by the end of this year or early next year.