GRAFTON – Those who oppose commercial-scale wind turbines worry that the towering structures could drive the value of nearby properties sharply downward. But the owner of a large forested tract that could host Windham County’s first such turbines is making a much different kind of financial argument.
In a mailer to residents in Windham and Grafton, where small towers now are testing the feasibility of a commercial windpower facility, Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. claims turbine development could provide a big boost to both towns’ coffers.
“If found feasible and constructed, a Stiles Brook wind project could become the largest taxpayer on the ‘municipal’ grand lists of both Windham and Grafton,” administrators of the New London, N.H.-based timber company wrote.
In the same literature, the company also announced that it is establishing an office in Grafton – in part to answer questions about “our exploration of wind energy.”
The mailer is further evidence that Meadowsend is serious about trying to establish a windpower operation on the Stiles Brook property. The company and Iberdrola, an international windpower developer, last year announced plans to install two meteorological-testing towers in Windham and another in Grafton on Meadowsend-owned property.
Depending on the weather data those towers produce, they could be a precursor to a proposal for a full-scale turbine project. There was opposition to the testing towers from some residents in Grafton, where the Selectboard did not take a position on the project. Officials in Windham, where the town plan bans commercial wind facilities, strongly opposed the erection of any test towers.
But the Vermont Public Service Board approved those towers, and they went up in April. Jeremy Turner, a Meadowsend administrator, said he’s hoping for more information about turbine feasibility in spring or summer of 2014.
In the meantime, there have been more concerns expressed by turbine opponents. That includes a forum last month in Townshend that focused on the alleged noise and health impacts of such facilities.
Meadowsend is responding with what will become quarterly mailings.
“It’s mainly to facilitate open, factual-based information,” Turner said. “So much stuff that goes around is misrepresented and misinformation from people who really don’t understand and don’t want to understand.”
In reference to the first such mailing, Turner contends it is “only fair to the people in these two towns that they are receiving fair and straightforward facts on how this potential project would actually impact the funds in their town.”
While those interested in developing turbines at Stiles Brook have said they are not yet sure of the potential wind project’s size, they base financial projections on other Vermont wind projects.
“For example, the 63-megawatt Kingdom Community Wind project makes annual payments to Lowell of $535,000, and the 40-megwawatt Sheffield Wind project pays Sheffield $520,000 every year,” the Meadowsend literature says.
“Those amounts are nearly the same as Windham’s entire budget,” administrators wrote. “In 2012, Windham collected $576,772 in local taxes. Grafton collected $946,226.”
Meadowsend also says wind projects contribute to the state education fund “but do not become part of the ‘education’ grand lists in host towns because wind farms are taxed differently for that purpose.”
The company argues that the alternate tax structure thus boosts the state’s pool of education money without negatively impacting education-tax collections in the town where turbines are based.
“Wind projects pay state education taxes directly, not via local property tax payments,” the flier says. “Thus, wind projects do not impact a host town’s role in the state education fund – they cannot turn a receiving town into a ‘gold’ town.”
Overall, Turner says, a Stiles Brook wind farm would represent “a sizable (financial) implication and contribution to the towns.”
It is unclear how such a message will play in Windham, where opposition to a wind project apparently remains strong. Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Boyer declined to comment on the Meadowsend literature.
Although the flier focuses on finances, Turner said he does not see that as the most-compelling reason to pursue turbine development at Stiles Brook.
“The most-important factor is the story of the land,” Turner said. “We’ve demonstrated our leadership in sustainable forestry, and that balancing act is very difficult.”
Turner said Stiles Brook, which is Meadowsend’s largest Vermont property, “needs some stability from a business standpoint.”
Meadowsend’s mailer puts it this way: “Because we are searching for ways to keep the Stiles Brook property for future generations, manage it sustainably in Vermont’s Current Use program and protect it from the kind of development that is not aligned with our values, we are exploring our options. Windpower is one tool that might allow us to protect the property for everyone.”
Those who want to discuss or question that contention now can talk to a Meadowsend representative in person and locally. The company has opened an office at 21 Route 121 E, Office No. 2, in Grafton.
The site is meant to “give residents an opportunity to learn more about the MTL Stiles Brook property and our exploration of wind energy on our property in Windham and Grafton,” administrators wrote in their recent mailer.
The office is managed by Melissa Belcher, a Westminster native who lives in Grafton. Belcher earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife and fisheries biology from the University of Vermont and a master’s degree in wildlife and fisheries conservation from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
She is expected to maintain office hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Mondays and Tuesdays and will be available by appointment. Belcher can be reached at 802-843-4047 or via e-mail at MTLstilesbrook@vermontel.net.
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