MANCHESTER – It has been almost two years since voters at Town Meeting directed the Select Board to oppose a wind project planned for Little Equinox with up to $150,000 after a contentious discussion. As this year’s Town Meeting approaches, the proposal seems to have dropped from the radar of both the proponent and the town directed to stop it.
Endless Energy, a Yarmouth, Maine-based company, had proposed to build five 390-foot wind turbines on Little Equinox to generate 30 million kilowatt-hours a year that would be sold to the Burlington Electric Department.
Opponents of the project generally cited the aesthetic damage they believed it would have on the landscape which attracts tourists to Manchester.
On Wednesday, Endless Energy President Harley Lee said that proposal had not been abandoned, but there had been no recent developments either.
“There really isn’t anything new to report. We’re just working quietly in the background,” he said.
Lee said the company was looking at ways Endless Energy could sell the electricity it would generate to Manchester residents, but state law, which does not allow consumer choice for power, made that unlikely.
Often criticized before the 2006 town meeting was the thought that the windmills in Manchester would generate power that would only be sent somewhere else and provide little local benefit.
On the municipal side, the money voters set aside to oppose the project is no longer being held in reserve and has been added to an allocated surplus fund, according to Manchester Town Manager John O’Keefe.
At the Town Meeting in 2006, there were several proposals for responding to the windmill project including a vote for the town to take no position, which was defeated by two votes.
An energy generation project like the one proposed by Endless Energy does not need town permits but is approved by Vermont’s Public Service Board, if the applicant proves it will serve the public good.
The Select Board at the 2006 Town Meeting asked voters not to take a position because they were concerned the project would get its state permits and the town would not be able to stop it. Town officials could negotiate with the applicant to find ways to make the project beneficial to Manchester but it would be difficult for Select Board members to win concessions if the applicant knew that no matter what concessions were made, the town would act to oppose it.
The vote that passed directed the Select Board to oppose the project and spend up to $150,000 to do it, which was a suggestion made on the floor at Town Meeting. Because the proposed budget didn’t include that line item, it needed to be raised by property taxes.
O’Keefe said the $150,000 was raised and included as a line item in the budget although it was never in a separate fund.
But at the end of the last fiscal year, a decision had to be made about what happened to the money. O’Keefe said with no application pending for the Act 248 the project would need, the town’s treasurer suggested the allocation be “de-authorized.”
The money was then listed in the surplus fund. Manchester always budgets more money than it spends, so the town isn’t at risk of operating at a deficit. At the end of a fiscal year, all of the surplus is put into the fund.
O’Keefe said the Select Board always budgets $100,000 from the fund to alleviate some of the tax burden on residents.
While O’Keefe pointed out the windmill discussion preceded his time as town manager he suggested the $150,000 may no longer be needed.
“The mere fact that the town voters created a $150,000 fund to oppose the project may have been enough to make the developer reconsider,” he said.
The project could still move forward at a later date but O’Keefe said the nature of that kind of proposal would allow ample time for discussion on how to proceed.
Preserving the $150,000 would have raised questions about whether a Town Meeting in 2006 could obligate a Town Meeting or a select board in, for example, 2016, O’Keefe added.
While there is no hearing on the Public Service Board Web site for the windmill proposal, Endless Energy’s Web site does have a feature that allows visitors to electronically “sign” a petition in favor of windmills on Little Equinox.
By Patrick McArdle
17 January 2008
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