MONTPELIER – Wind energy siting policy has driven a wedge between two prominent Democratic candidates for governor a week before the primary elections.
Matt Dunne, a former state senator from Hartland, recently announced he will oppose any large wind project that has failed a local ballot referendum.
“If a town votes the project down by Australian ballot, Matt will use all the power of the Governor’s office to ensure that is the end of the project,” Dunne’s campaign said in a statement Monday.
Dunne’s statement surprised some environmental advocates and prompted a spate of endorsements for his rival, former Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Sue Minter.
First, environmental activist and author Bill McKibben publicly shifted his allegiance from Dunne to Minter, as first reported by Seven Days. Dunne had used McKibben’s endorsement to boost his environmental credentials in a forum on climate change three weeks ago.
Senate Natural Resources Committee Chairman Christopher Bray, who had been privately advising Minter’s campaign, spoke publicly on her behalf. And Vermont Conservation Voters waded into the Democratic primary for the first time and endorsed Minter.
“Well-sited wind must be a part of our energy future,” Minter said Tuesday.
All three of the leading Democratic candidates for governor – Dunne, Minter and former state Sen. Peter Galbraith – want to source 90 percent of Vermont’s energy from renewable sources by 2050. Galbraith opposes all industrial wind projects on Vermont ridgelines, while Minter and Dunne support a mix of solar, wind and other options.
Dunne said he would strongly advocate for wind projects. He would use executive power to fight wind projects that are unpopular with local communities, but said he would not support new legislation that codifies that policy into local veto power.
“Everyone should know that they would have a very, very strong environmentalist with me as governor as well,” Dunne said in an interview Tuesday.
Environmental advocates behind Minter argued Dunne’s stance on local voting would weaken Act 174, the new renewable energy siting law that gives local communities some input in where projects are located.
“If towns, landowners and developers agree amongst themselves that they want to have a vote on a particular project, that’s fine. But to make that a policy, that absolutely threatens Vermont’s energy future,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, and outgoing chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy. “And what else are we going to start having local referendums on?”
Klein added that “real Vermont does not look like the cover of Vermont Life.”
Democratic voters will have the opportunity to decide from among Minter, Dunne and Galbraith, as well as Democratic candidates H. Brooke Paige and Cris Ericson, in primary elections Aug. 9. Paige has also posted a statement on his website denouncing industrial wind as a “mismatch” for Vermont.