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Vermont town set for protest vote against wind turbines

The ongoing clash between Vermonters and Big Wind is set for a slugfest Thursday night as Irasburg residents will attempt a protest vote against two 500-foot wind turbines sited atop the ridgeline of nearby Kidder Hill.

At a special Selectboard meeting at 6:30 p.m. at Irasburg Town Hall, voters will cast ballots to answer the following question: “Shall Kidder Hill, or any other ridgelines of the town of Irasburg, Vermont, be used for development by industrial wind turbine projects?”

A no-vote would be setback for David Blittersdorf, whose Kidder Hill Community Wind business plans to construct the 5 megawatt electricity-generating towers to provide power to approximately 2,100 homes in the area.

“We have 421 signatures opposing this project,” said Ron Holland, a local resident, and member of the Irasburg Ridgeline Alliance which led a petition drive against the turbines.

Holland, who helped expose broad opposition to the project, said a no-vote would launch a sustained revolt among residents determined to protect local ridgelines.

“It will send a very clear message to the administration of the state of Vermont, and to Mr. Blittersdorf, that he can expect total noncooperation from the citizens of Irasburg,” he said.

While Blittersdorf has yet to present his plan to regulators at the Public Service Board, the green energy mogul told a meeting of Addison County Democrats in June that Vermonters can expect wind turbines on one-third of Vermont’s ridgelines as part of a state goal to become 90 percent renewable powered by 2050. A YouTube video of the meeting went viral across Vermont.

Residents who oppose the project say unsightly turbines would negatively affect property values and generate unhealthy amounts of noise in the community. Holland said he’s equally concerned by the sale of Vermont’s ridgelines to developers whose biggest supporters are well-funded politicians.

“This is an alliance between state interests and business interests that excludes towns in the decision-making process. This is being foisted on us and we have no say,” Holland said, referring to the town’s lack of authority to block new energy projects.

“The policies that have been developed are a textbook example of crony capitalism. There are far less expensive, far less polluting, far less destructive options available that don’t make money for the people that control Vermont utilities, but they haven’t been considered.”

Asked for evidence of a state-business alliance, Holland said Blittersdorf is a major donor to Gov. Peter Shumlin, House Speaker Shap Smith and Joint Energy Committee Chair Rep. Tony Klein.

Blittersdorf did not return Watchdog’s request for comment. However, the green energy mogul is scheduled to give a speech defending the Kidder Hill Community Wind prior to the vote.

Wind turbine opponents also have politicians in the fight.

State Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, who represents Irasburg and other towns in the Northeast Kingdom, is a vocal critic unregulated siting of renewable energy projects.

“The Northeast Kingdom has become the dumping ground for every ill-conceived, poorly sited renewable energy project the developers can dream up,” Rodgers said in a news release. “Environmental and energy issues are real, but we know that there are far more effective ways to address them without ruining the quality of life that defines us as Vermonters.”

Given that Vermont’s Democratic-controlled majority overwhelmingly supports industrial scale renewable energy, blocking intrusive wind farms rests with local citizens.

For Irasburg residents like Rebecca Boulanger, it’s the feeling of powerlessness that stokes flames of anger in the small town.

“Here in Vermont, where we’re known worldwide for our town-meeting democracy, it is inconceivable that a decision with so many irreversible consequences for our citizens would be made without regard for the democratic process,” Boulanger said.

But for Holland, who said he expects a win Thursday night, protecting Vermont’s pristine ridge lines is simply about being a good neighbor.

“If your neighbor’s house is on fire, you go and help put it out. These people’s homes are going to be destroyed in terms of what happens in the environment around there, and so the neighbors are coming to the rescue.”