The town of Grafton will hold a vote on a 28-turbine wind energy plant proposed by Iberdrola Renewables.
By a 3-to-1 vote Tuesday night, the Grafton Selectboard approved a townwide vote on the Stiles Brook Wind Project to occur in late 2016 or early 2017. Board Chair Ron Pilette advocated holding the vote during the Nov. 8 election, when neighbors in Windham will vote on the same project, but the board ultimately voted against it.
Both towns are seeking a vote after Iberdrola representatives wrote a June letter stating the company would respect voters’ wishes as long as the election occurs by Nov. 8 and is limited to registered voters. The exclusion of second-home owners has irked some, as they make up a substantial portion of each community.
What’s not clear is if Iberdrola would respect a vote held after Election Day. Board members at Tuesday’s meeting resolved to have Pilette present a letter to the Spanish company explaining the plan and asking them to respect a vote at the later date.
In a separate initiative, Grafton plans to conduct a poll for all property owners, including second-home owners, to provide insight on what everybody in the community thinks about the project.
While town elections are not legally binding on energy projects, Selectboard Vice Chair Skip Lisle said he and fellow residents are taking Iberdrola leaders at their word.
“I won’t believe anything until it actually happens, I’m going to be cautious, but certainly I would expect them to respect the government and the voters of Grafton to keep their word no matter when we vote,” Lisle told Vermont Watchdog.
Another concern of the board is Grafton’s long overdue town plan. Updating the plan has gained new important since, under the newly passed Act 174, the Public Service Board can give “substantial deference” to a town’s energy policy once it is in writing.
Grafton’s town plan hasn’t had its energy policy updated in about a decade, according to Pilette. He said it currently consists of a few sentences and notes that renewables are good and should be pursued. Under Act 174, planners are free to suggest where renewable energy may be sited, but approval depends on whether the plan complies with the state’s ambitious renewable energy goals.
Lisle feels the update is overdue.
“Windham has long ago finished a very good town plan and we have not,” he said. “We’ve been working on it for years and had a real hard time completing it. It’s pretty important, especially in the eyes of the Public Service Board.”
Pilette echoed that sentiment, saying that substantial deference was an important goal for planners to achieve.
On Oct. 5 the town is hosting a panel of experts to debate the project’s management of storm-water runoff. The issue has gained attention in light of serious flooding in both towns over the years. As reported by Watchdog, other large wind energy projects in Vermont, such as Lowell Mountain, have experienced storm-water system failures. The new Iberdrola installation is expected to use the same design.
The Stiles Brook Wind Project, expected to deliver up to 96.6 megawatts of power on windy days, is named after Stiles Brook Forest, a 5,000-acre tract of land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. Advocates claim the project will bring $1 million annually into the towns of Windham and Grafton – about $715,000 of tax revenues for Windham and $285,000 for Grafton.
The Grafton Selectboard is expecting an assessment from the state tax department in October that will explain how the $285,000 is to be divvied up among homeowners. Pilette expressed concern that residents in the lowest income bracket may get the smallest share of tax assistance, and added that controversies surrounding the project have raised the stakes for this year’s election.
“The environment is changing at the Statehouse,” he said, adding that the size of the project could affect how people vote. Of the two candidates running for governor, Democrat Sue Minter has expressed strong support for wind energy in Vermont.
Grafton has special committees researching the environmental, health and economic effects of the project. The board hopes to take up the issue again, along with the town plan, at the next board meeting on Oct. 4.
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