DERBY – The Derby Planning Commission is determined to ask for a town-wide referendum on wind projects, despite requests for a moratorium from opponents.
A non-binding referendum is what wind proponents in Derby want as well.
Derby farmer Bryan Davis, who has tried to get a large turbine erected on his farm near Derby Line, reiterated his belief on Monday that a majority of voters in Derby support wind projects.
He urged the town to hold a vote to find out.
“I really support wind energy. I personally think it’s a great idea to put it up for a vote,” Davis said.
Davis wants to hear from voters about wind turbines on his farm.
“If I don’t have the support from the people in this community, I’ll go home and be quiet.”
The commission voted unanimously last month to request that the select board put a non-binding referendum about wind energy before voters next March, leaving the phrasing of the question up to the select board. Select Board Chairman Brian Smith said crafting that question would be a challenge.
The commission members did not change their minds about the need for a referendum at Monday’s meeting despite challenges by two wind opponents who questioned why the commission had that vote in October without putting it on their agenda.
Derby Selectman Karen Jenne and resident Glenda Nye said the commission should not have voted to make the request without letting residents know in advance.
Acting Commission Chairman Dave LaBelle did not react to their challenge.
The commission did spend an hour listening to about a dozen people offer their opinions about wind projects.
LaBelle said the commission wanted to hear from residents about their views before discussing and rewriting the energy portion of the town plan.
The commission wants feedback from the voters in March 2013 before completing that draft.
The commission must present the draft of the town plan to residents at a hearing before it goes to the select board. The select board then has hearings before presenting it to the voters for approval.
Nye asked how the town could vote on wind energy without having more information. She pointed to studies now underway in Ontario, Canada, and elsewhere in the U.S. to look at the health impacts of wind turbines.
She noted that people living near the active Lowell wind turbines have already complained about noise experienced on the weekend of Nov. 3-4.
A non-binding vote would rile up the town, she said, reminding the commission about the animosity stirred up during the debate over the now-defunct Derby Line Wind Project – where one turbine was proposed for the Davis farm.
“I refuse to go through another fiasco,” she said, saying it affected her health.
Commission member Jim Bumps said the commission just wanted to hear the opinion of other voters.
She urged the commission to give the Legislature a chance to call for a moratorium, as has been requested by Northeastern Vermont Development Association.
The town could join that call for a three-year moratorium on wind projects, she said.
Derby Line resident Dick Fletcher listed problems with wind projects elsewhere, and also asked for a moratorium.
“It’s wise to put on the brakes,” he said, calling it premature to have a town-wide vote.
“These industrial wind turbines are hurting people.”
Maureen Fountain urged the commission to “take a pause” and let the townspeople educate themselves before any vote.
People don’t want to get sick from living too close to turbines, but people also want to help the local farmers, she said.
Davis argued that there is “tons and tons” of false information online about wind projects. He thanked the commission for seeking comment from both sides of the issue.
Resident Grant Spates said he liked the idea of a referendum on wind.
Vermont Electric Cooperative’s CEO Dave Hallquist attended the meeting to offer to provide technical information about energy projects in general to the planning commission.
He pointed out that VEC, like other utilities, is required by the Legislature to find more new renewable energy sources like wind and solar in the future.
That mandate makes more wind projects more likely, since the cost of wind power is cheaper than solar.
There are drawbacks to all energy projects, Hallquist said.
“When it comes to generation, there are no easy choices.”
He urged the commission, if it opts to call for a moratorium, to put it on solar power too. Otherwise, VEC would be required to only buy solar power, which is currently much more expensive than wind power, he said. A mandate to buy more solar would affect VEC electricity rates.
The commission has collected copies of town energy plans from towns across Vermont, including those that have voted to restrict or ban wind projects.
Nye said that the town council in neighboring Stanstead, Quebec, is voting to ban wind projects and Derby should take that into account.
LaBelle responded that Stanstead didn’t ask for Derby’s opinion before voting. Derby has to make its own decision, he said.
The commission is collecting information on wind energy, which zoning administrator Bob Kelley said will be available in his office for anyone who wants to look at it.
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