IRASBURG, Vt. – In a stinging rebuke of Vermont’s most prominent wind developer, Irasburg residents packed Town Hall Thursday night and voted 274-9 against hosting giant wind turbines on a nearby ridgeline in sight of local neighborhoods.
At a special meeting called by the Irasburg Selecboard, hundreds of people met to vote on Kidder Hill Community Wind, a controversial renewable-energy project that seeks to put place two 500-foot turbines on Kidder Hill, just west of the village center.
As the hall exceeded maximum capacity and voters flowed out into the street, Selectboard members delayed the start to discuss how best to accommodate the large crowd.
Additional time was taken in hopes of locating the project’s developer, David Blittersdorf, who was widely expected to make a presentation defending his project. Once it became apparent the green energy mogul was a no-show on a meeting in which his wind turbines were the sole item on the ballot, the Selectboard proceeded with a vote.
Residents formed a line and cast paper ballots in a single large ballot box. A single question appeared on the ballot: “Shall Kidder Hill, or any other ridgelines of the town of Irasburg, Vermont, be used for development by industrial wind turbine projects?”
Voters didn’t say no – they said hell no. The count was 274 against and 9 in favor. Two spoiled ballots weren’t counted.
Following the vote, roughly a dozen residents stood up to voice their opinions of the project.
“We are here tonight to make our voices heard. We the people of Irasburg say, ‘No ridgeline wind in Irasburg,’” said Ron Holland, a local physician.
Holland was the organizer of a petition drive that helped raised awareness of the project.
Choking back emotion as he spoke, Holland presented the petitions to the Selectboard and urged its members to oppose the Kidder Hill Community Wind project “by all means possible,” and to develop a town plan that “protects all of our ridgelines from industrial wind development.”
One resident spoke about the impact of unregulated development in the area.
“There are big companies that are right now buying up some very large plots of land, and they’re targeting areas like this. … If we do not stop this, in 20 years you will not recognize this area. It will look very different,” said Paul Dring.
Another attendee protested that towns have have no authority over the siting of projects.
“Our vote doesn’t actually count. That’s why I think this is about people getting together and galvanizing to say, ‘We want a voice against corporate America,’ said John Clark.
After the event, Susan and William Wahl, who purchased a home half a mile from Kidder Hill in June, said Blittersdorf invited them – along with about 25 other residents – to his cabin in August to break the news.
“The way he acted, I think it was a done deal. We had just found out about it. Nobody in Irasburg had a clue,” Susan Wahl said. “We wouldn’t have bought the home if somebody said there’s going to be wind turbines.”
The vote in Irasburg is the latest in a growing revolt against renewable energy projects in Vermont. Siting controversies have recently arisen in Swanton, Barton, Poultney, Dummerston, and Pownal, among other towns. Towns that have lawyered up to fight developers include New Haven, Bennington and Rutland Town.
Under state law, approval of energy projects rests solely with the Public Service Board. The regulatory body has has come under fire for rubber stamping green energy proposals. The process stands in stark contrast to Act 250, Vermont’s land use law that places strict constraints on commercial development.
While not binding, the vote in Irasburg has force, according to Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.
“If a town opposes something and changes their town plan, and if they vote to oppose it, that is the strongest thing a town can do,” she said. “They certainly have the ability to send a message. The town of Swanton just did it, too, for the Swanton Wind project, which is actually further along.”
According to Smith, the vote could cause Blittersdorf to switch towns.
“There’s a possibility that Blittersdorf will just choose to move it across the border into Lowell, affecting the same people in Irasburg,” she said. “If he moves to Lowell, which has supported wind turbines, he’s likely to get a vote of support there.”
Although Blittersdorf was a no-show at Thursday’s meeting, Leslie Cadwell of Kidder Hill Community Wind issued a statement to media immediately following the vote.
“Regrettably, the outcome of this vote comes as no surprise. It represents a rush to judgment at odds with basic notions of fairness and fact-driven dialogue. From the start, the Irasburg Selectboard has stacked the deck against informed and thoughtful conversation about this project.”
She added, “We look forward to finalizing our proposal. … Residents and elected leaders in Lowell, Milton, Georgia and other wind-hosting towns, have proven that Vermonters are willing to do their part for a cleaner, more energy-independent future. We hope Irasburg residents will eventually follow their lead.”
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