WINDHAM—For years, opponents of a wind-turbine development proposed in Windham and Grafton have complained that they’ve not gotten much solid information about the project.
That might change later this month, as a developer and landowner involved in the Stiles Brook proposal have teamed up to schedule public meetings in both towns.
The sessions are to include discussion of a “preliminary draft study layout,” meaning that, for the first time, developer Iberdrola Renewables will show where windmills might be sited.
The meetings are scheduled for Oct. 26, at 6 p.m., at Grafton Elementary School and Oct. 27, 6 p.m., at Windham Meeting House.
“Even though we just had meetings in June, we made a commitment to the communities of Grafton and Windham to update them with additional information as it becomes available,” Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said. “We have a preliminary draft study layout to share, so it is an appropriate time to communicate with the residents of the two towns.”
Others aren’t as enthusiastic about the upcoming get-togethers.
“Our expectations for the meeting are modest,” said Mary Boyer, Windham’s Selectboard chairwoman and a consistent critic of the project. “Iberdrola has been studying the parcel for more than three years and so far has told us virtually nothing of their findings, their layout plan nor their estimate of impacts of this very large-scale development.”
Iberdrola is an international developer of wind turbines, and Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. owns the 5,000-acre Stiles Brook Forest, which lies mostly in Windham and Grafton.
In 2012, the companies jointly announced plans to study wind resources at Stiles Brook. If a project goes forward, it would be the first large-scale, commercial wind-turbine site in Windham County.
Three meteorological-testing towers – two in Windham and one in Grafton – have been gathering data at Stiles Brook, but the results have not been conclusive. In September, the Vermont Public Service Board granted Iberdrola an additional two years to operate those towers.
There has been grassroots opposition to the project in Grafton as well as opposition at the town level in Windham, where the town plan bans such turbine developments. Last month, the nonprofit Grafton Woodlands Group – which opposes commercial wind power – opened a storefront office on Main Street in Grafton a short distance from a Meadowsend office.
“We had almost 60 people” at an open house held Sept. 25, said Liisa Kissel, a Grafton Woodlands Group director. “It was very well-attended.”
Project advocates have set up a website, www.stilesbrookforest.com, to get their own message out to local residents. Meadowsend and Iberdrola also have hosted site visits and several public meetings.
“A key point I’d like to remind people of is the amount of outreach we’ve continued to do,” said Jeremy Turner, Meadowsend’s managing forester.
The Meadowsend/Iberdrola meetings scheduled for later this month are billed as a project update, and any official proposed turbine layout would be news.
Opponents have drawn up their own maps showing “potential tower locations” in relation to existing residences, camps, churches and schools, with hypothetical tower sites inferred from topography and general turbine-siting requirements. But neither Iberdrola nor Meadowsend has said where windmills might go.
“This would be the first time that they would be answering that question – how many turbines and where would they be,” Kissel said.
While Iberdrola will provide an answer, Copleman was careful to say it might not be the final answer given that studies are ongoing at Stiles Brook. He noted that “the layout is a preliminary design and will help guide us and the state agencies with the environmental studies at the site.”
“There is still a lot we don’t know, as we’ve essentially just begun a series of field studies that help us better understand the environmental conditions on the site, determine the feasibility of a project, and the possible future locations of turbines, which could change over time from the map we share later this month,” Copleman wrote in an email.
The meetings also are supposed to include talk of “potential economic benefits to the community.” While there have been past discussions about the financial benefits to towns that host wind facilities, there have been no specific details released regarding Iberdrola’s latest economic proposals at Stiles Brook.
“We’re still assessing what’s feasible on the site, and that will take some time, but we’ll come [to the meetings] prepared to discuss a range of benefits based on what we’re studying at this time,” Copleman wrote.
Those who oppose the project aren’t sure that any turbine-related cash infusions – no matter how large – will be worth it.
“Of course there will be money in the equation eventually, but it is very difficult to put a monetary value on the loss to a community of its iconic ridgelines, waterways, and forestlands,” Boyer wrote in an email response to questions from The Commons.
“Ridgelines are not renewable,” she added. “A monetary value on the loss of quiet days and nights to the hum of rotors spinning; the loss of the dark night skies to strobe lights 500 feet in the air; the loss of property values to our property owners; increased flooding to the downstream communities? It will be very interesting to see just what these economic benefits will be.”
While opponents see Stiles Brook turbines as a net loss, Turner counters that the wind project would allow Meadowsend to preserve Stiles Brook as “a working forest for future generations.”
Turner said the company also will continue to allow access for activities such as hunting and snowmobiling, as it has at Meadowsend-owned land, where the Sheffield Wind project in the Northeast Kingdom is located.
“I think that’s huge, and I continually try to drive home the point that this land will remain open for the community to enjoy. That’s how we’ve been handling it in Sheffield, and it’s going very well,” Turner said.