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Poll shows Vermonters still support ridgeline wind development

CASTLETON – A recent poll by the Castleton Polling Institute at Castleton State College, shows that 66 percent of Vermonters support wind turbine construction on Vermont’s ridgelines.

This is down 3 percentage points from a WCAX-TV poll conducted by the institute last May, when it found that 69 percent of respondents expressed support for the development of wind energy on ridgelines. In the new poll, 19 percent opposed wind development, 14 percent of respondents were not sure, and 1 percent refused to answer.

Based on an age demographic, Vermonters between ages 18 and 35 are more likely to support ridgeline development, while people 55 and over are more likely to oppose it, though the majority in that age group still overwhelmingly support it.

According to the poll, 69 percent of respondents also favored the development of wind farms in their community, as opposed to 19 percent who did not want it. Twelve percent were not sure.

For these questions, the respondents were pretty consistent among party affiliation, but when the question came up on whether they think state government should subsidize alternative energy generation, the lines were split – 77 percent of Democrats, 67 percent of Independents and 49 percent of Republicans are in favor government subsidizes.

The poll results, released Tuesday, are part of a broader policy poll that also included questions on the “death with dignity” debate, cellphone use while driving, single-payer health care and gun control. The poll was conducted Feb. 6 to Feb. 17 with 620 people interviewed. The margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level is plus or minus 3.9 percent.

Dorothy Schnure, a corporate spokeswoman for Green Mountain Power, said the poll results are consistent with the numbers the utility recently gathered from their customers on the same question. She said a poll with GMP customers last December showed that 75 percent of customers supported wind on a ridgeline while 20 percent opposed it.

“We pay attention to what our customers want and they still want wind power,” she said.

Schnure said although the percentage of support is down in the new poll, it was misleading to say there is less support from Vermonters on ridgeline development for wind. She said the change since May is still within the poll’s margin of error, meaning the numbers are still in line with what they have seen all along.

Lukas Snelling, executive director of Energize Vermont, said polls with low sample sizes and a high margin of error are not reliable gauges of status of the issue across the state. He said, however, a clear trend has emerged and support for wind development on ridgelines “is eroding over time.”

He said the trend can be seen in the last few of polls on the issue: 72 percent of Vermonters supported such development in 2008 and since then, the number has steadily gone down.

“Now it’s even less,” he said. “We are seeing eroding support. The ‘no opinion’ or not sure is going up.”

Snelling added that the question of wind development is dependent on location and if a commercial wind project has been proposed for a specific area, reports now show dwindling support. He said two towns recently overwhelmingly voted against wind development on the ridgeline.

“The more people learn about these projects, the more they are against big wind,” he said.