IRASBURG – Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance (IRA) volunteers heard from an industrial wind opposition “dream team” on Wednesday, got pamphlets with “talking points” to bring along on their petition drive, and then got into the democracy-loving groove by dancing to a song about freedom, filing out of the town hall to the strains of “Eye of the Tiger.”
While organizers provided volunteers with a plethora of information to offer in response to folks on the fence, the main message couldn’t have been more clear: People in Irasburg should have the right to decide what happens in Irasburg.
IRA, which is named for the town’s founder Ira Allen, was formed recently in response to a proposal from renewable energy developer David Blittersdorf, owner of AllEarth Renewables and an Irasburg property owner.
Blittersdorf wants to build two nearly 500-foot-tall wind towers on Kidder Hill, though he has yet to give the town formal notice or apply for a permit from the state’s Public Service Board (PSB).
IRA’s goal is to knock on every voter’s door in town over the next two weeks and encourage voters to sign a petition stating: “As registered voters in the town of Irasburg, Vermont, we petition the Irasburg Selectboard: To oppose the proposed Kidder Hill community wind project by all means possible; and To develop a town plan that protects all of Irasburg’s ridge-lines from industrial wind.”
More than 70 people filled the downstairs room of the town hall for the meeting.
The group has a Facebook page, a web site at www.iravt.com, and an e-mail address, firstname.lastname@example.org, which pays homage to the Americans who lost their lives fighting terrorists on 9/11 in order to bring down Flight 93.
Anti-industrial wind T-shirts were available, as were pamphlets with computer-generated projections of what the towers would look like from several vantage points with the words, “Industrial Wind Turbines in Irasburg?!?!” The pamphlets also sported an image, created by Judith Jackson, of Ira Allen with a speech bubble stating: “Not so fast…”
IRA organizers also hope to work with the select board to set a date for a nonbinding, referendum-type vote on the issue.
Speakers included former Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Steve Wright, Senator John Rodgers of Glover, and Marc Whitworth, outgoing executive director of Energize Vermont.
Noreen Hession, whose group managed to keep industrial wind out of Newark, gave volunteers tips for speaking with their neighbors about this issue. A united front in a town is the best bet, she said, saying that votes on wind development took place in 13 towns, and the only ones with turbines are Sheffield and Lowell.
Of Lowell, she said, “They divided that town.”
In contrast, Hession said, though the two-year fight in Newark was trying, it brought the community closer together.
Michael Sanville talked about research showing that proximity to wind towers does, in fact, lower property values. Within two miles of a tower, values drop by 10 to 40 percent, he said, an impact that would affect 75 to 80 homes in Irasburg.
Taxpayers whose properties do not lose value will be forced to make up the difference, and the $40,000 Blittersdorf has offered to pay the town each year will have zero impact on the tax rate, Sanville said.
In contrast, Sanville said, Blittersdorf stands to make $100-million over the life of the project, “on our backs.”
Blittersdorf’s vision is 200 miles of ridgeline “raped and destroyed,” Sanville said.
“This is a watershed moment for us,” he said.
“This is not a campaign against renewable energy,” said Dr. Ron Holland, one of the Lowell Six arrested for blocking a crane path during the construction of 21 turbines there.
He explained how renewable energy certificates (REC), which are worth the same amount as the value of one kilowatt hour, are sold to other states so that they can claim dirty energy sources like coal as renewable.
The sale of RECs is a $50-billion a year industry, or was, until Connecticut threatened to stop buying the RECs due to Vermont counting them for itself as well.
The net effect, Holland said, is “those 21 turbines are essentially 21 smoke stacks.”
The state needn’t build new projects when it is under-utilizing existing infrastructure like hydros on the Connecticut River, said Whitworth, who will be replaced by Peter Antos-Ketchum on Sunday. The state should not be encouraging generation sources – like wind – that don’t produce much power and fail to lessen the state’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Green Mountain Power claims that the Lowell wind site reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 74,000 tons annually, Whitworth said, but that’s just the equivalent of a half-day’s traffic in New York City.
Rodgers said the PSB process is broken. With the tax incentives that went to the Lowell wind project, 23,000 homes could have been insulated, saving $23-million, he said.
Steve Therrien spoke about the effect of wind turbine syndrome, and Carol Irons spoke about the fact that no one listens to the opposition until they break the rules through civil disobedience.
Becky Boulanger, the force of nature behind IRA, closed the meeting. “We all care about the Earth. We all believe in renewable energy…. In order to be effective, renewable energy has to be done in a thoughtful way.”
“We have an obligation to make a stand,” Boulanger said. “Irasburg, let’s go out there and make a difference.”