MONTPELIER – A selectboard chairman Friday defended the process that led to his town’s approval of a mountaintop wind project that some residents are fighting.
Testifying before Vermont utility regulators, Lowell Selectboard Chairman Richard Pion said the ballot question put to voters at town meeting last year included mention of a $400,000 annual windfall the town would get from the Kingdom Community Wind project because it was germane, not because he thought it would sway them to vote yes.
“I felt the voters should at least know all of the perspectives,” Pion said. “They should know what they were voting on.”
Green Mountain Power Corp. and Vermont Electric Co-Op have proposed a $150 million project that would erect 20 or 21 400-foot-tall towers along 3.2 miles of ridgeline. The wind farm could generate enough electricity to power 20,000 households, according to Green Mountain Power officials.
The developers have promised Lowell annual tax payments of $400,000 to $535,000 for the life of the project, and also plan a “Good Neighbor Fund” that would pay five surrounding towns – Albany, Westfield, Eden, Irasburg and Craftsbury – a minimum of $10,000 a year for 10 years.
Lowell voters signed off on the project in a 342-114 vote last year, but it still needs the approval of the three-member Vermont Board of Public Service, which must issue a certificate of public good.
Since the town’s vote, residents opposed to the project have mounted an effort to block it, saying the mountaintop windmills would be noisy, unsightly and a scar on the Lowell Mountain Range’s pristine landscape.
Thursday, the board opened a 12-day hearing aimed at deciding whether it’s in the public’s best interests to build it.
Friday, Pion and an economist hired by the developers testified before the board, answering pointed questions from a lawyer representing the Lowell Mountains Group, a 200-member citizens group that opposes the project.
One focused on the ballot question, which read: “Shall the voters of the Town of Lowell approve the concept of a WIND PROJECT in the Town as proposed by Green Mountain Power Corporation and the Vermont Electric Cooperative, provided than an agreement is reached between the Town and the developers that would bring a minimum of $400,000.00 per year to the Town of Lowell.”
Citing guidelines developed by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, Lowell Mountains Group attorney Brice Simon said ballot questions should be objective and not aimed at persuading voters to one side or the other. Including the $400,000 figure on the ballot, he contends, was improper.
Board member John D. Burke asked Pion the question, too, and he repeated his answer, saying he felt the dollar figure was important to include in the wording of the ballot question.
Also at issue is the look of the windmills.
Economist Thomas Kavet, testifying for the developers about the economic impact of the project, acknowledged under questioning that aesthetics can hurt tourism.
Pressed by lawyer Jared Margolis, who represents Craftsbury and Albany, Kavet said it’s possible fewer new homes will be built in the area because people won’t want to live near the wind project.
Kavet says the project will mean 700 jobs during construction, more than $2 million in state tax revenues and $15 million in “direct fiscal benefits” to Lowell.
If Vermont regulators approve the project, construction would start in late summer or early fall, Green Mountain Power spokeswoman Dotty Schnure said.
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