Wind projects divide the communities in which they are built as well as the environmentalists in those communities. Grafton and Windham are not escaping this scourge. Letters to the Grafton News supporting the project do so for the most part by denigrating those who oppose the project. A recent letter from a non-Grafton resident to the Reformer notes apprehensively the unfortunate behavior by the chairman of the Grafton Selectboard towards an opponent of the project. There are three groups of issues: economic, environmental, and moral, which come together in a fourth – community.
ECONOMIC. There will be a few dozen jobs involved in constructing the demonstration and final projects. Several of these will no doubt go to Grafton residents. They will last about a year or so. A handful of jobs will remain for ongoing maintenance, etc. The average property owner will save a few hundred dollars or less on their taxes, not the $1,000 or so that some believe. The two-thirds of our property tax related to education will not be affected by the wind facility’s existence, and most of the project property lies outside of Grafton. There will be a mitigation (or Good Neighbor) fund, which will be a payment to the town for several years. It will not go to individuals and will likely not go to reduce our taxes. Best use of this fund would probably be to either use the interest (a relatively small amount) yearly or let it increase to help us pay for the next devastating flood (see below under ENVIRONMENTAL). Finally, some property owners adjacent or very near to the project may agree to take money in return for “shutting up” about their complaints, a strategy that has been used in at least one New Hampshire wind project.
Against these economic benefits, we will see properties very near to the project lose a substantial part of their property value. The remainder of Grafton properties can be expected to lose a certain amount of value. You cannot be at the same time a wind energy town and a location for retirees, second homes, and the odd couple resettling. One of the area’s most respected real estate agents has already made it clear that no one is interested in looking at land adjacent to the wind proposal property. I suspect that in order to protect themselves from possible later legal action, agents showing any Grafton property will mention that there is a proposed or actual wind project in Grafton. A 10 percent reduction in property value may very well wipe out 20-30 years of tax reduction.
ENVIRONMENTAL. The global view is that any renewable energy project will help reduce our dependence on non-renewable energy. Even if this project is not a particularly good one, some argue that it will help in the bigger fight. If this project drives up our electric and tax bills, we will likely reduce our use of energy which some see as a good as well. However, as of now, renewable energy projects are competing with each other for the large government subsidies for renewable energy. This project will take away from other projects, including solar projects, which are mostly better bets as potentially sustainable renewable energy projects. Also, in a growing economy (fortunately the normal situation), we use more energy driving, etc., to increase our income rather than settling for less. Moreover, since the power company can sell its carbon offsets from this project, an out-of-state power company will be able to put off addressing its real carbon footprint problems by purchasing the right to continue as is.
Locally, the environmental costs are substantial. Numerous birds and bats will meet a sudden and nasty end. Local wildlife migration (including deer) will be severely disrupted. Several thousand acres will be crisscrossed by miles of wide roads, hundreds of acres will be stripped, and thousands of tons of concrete will be poured into deep wells to anchor the stanchions. This process alone will involve using a substantial amount of non-renewable energy.
There can be human health costs as well. Residents relatively near to the project will hear the turbines, and many studies indicate that some people can be expected to become sick. Lately, a discussion has begun about the possible health affects of the non-audible waves. There are several hundred dwellings within two miles of the likely tower locations in the Grafton-Windham project.
As noted above, we might want to keep the mitigation fund growing since one probably could not have picked a worse location with respect to potential flooding. We have experienced three devastating floods in fewer than 20 years, and now there is a proposal to strip bare, build miles of permanent roads, and put down thousands of tons of concrete on a few thousand acres of a watershed that drains through Grafton village. With respect to increasing the chances of flooding, this project is potentially disastrous both environmentally and economically.
MORAL. There are dozens of properties near to the proposed site that lie outside of Grafton and Windham. Many of these people can be expected to experience real economic and environmental costs but no benefits. Grafton and Windham property owners relatively near to the site will experience these costs as well. Some people have complained about the NIMBY (not in my backyard) response of some of those opposed to this project. The situation is more complicated. If you live in Grafton but not close to the project, that is, in the far corner of NIMBY, you might imagine that you will come out ahead. I think only those few who might get a temporary job or accept substantial “shut up” money can correctly imagine that as a possibility. Everyone else will most probably lose economically and or environmentally. Just whom do we consider our neighbors that we watch out for in this situation?
COMMUNITY. We like to think of Grafton as a real community. Any issue of the Grafton News celebrates the value of caring for one another. We also like to think of ourselves as caring for those in adjacent towns as part of a wider community. Industrial wind projects split communities apart, town against town, parts of towns against each other, and environmentalists against environmentalists. Can we hold our positions and be mindful at the same time of what it takes to have a real community? At the minimum there needs to be fuller discussion, not the carefully calculated, controlled, and restrictive discussions of the recent meetings. I suggest the following:
1. Vote down the warranted items at our town meeting. They seem innocuous but a yes vote will be used to tell us that we favored the project in principle and all that can be done in the future is to try to negotiate a better deal. This is what happened in Sheffield. Windham residents have been told by the state that, since they approved renewable energy in principle in their town plan, their objection to this particular proposal (most of which is on Windham land) will be ignored by the state. That’s right, Windham is formally opposed to this project as a town but, the Vermont Public Service Board has overridden its objection. In a locally centered democracy, all of us, no matter our position on industrial wind, should find this both disturbing and outrageous.
2. The Selectboard should hire a reputable company to undertake a full and independent economic analysis. This analysis should be paid for by Iberdrola since the company wishes to build this project. We need to have a better understanding of the true local and regional economic impact of this proposal.
3. The library should collect a selection of books and articles arguing for and against wind energy projects. Many of us should become acquainted with this material. A working committee should be established consisting of those committed to presenting the pros and cons of this proposal. A document can be written and distributed to all Grafton residents for review and ongoing discussion.
4. Only then, should we address this proposal by voting.
Ron Pilette lives in Grafton