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Second-home owners say Iberdrola shouldn’t use them to deny wind farm vote

WINDHAM, Vt. – After an Iberdrola representative questioned the integrity of a Nov. 8 vote regarding its proposed 28-turbine wind farm in Windham and Grafton, second-home owners in Windham have decided to conceal the results of their opinion poll until after Election Day.

Spanish renewable energy developer Iberdrola has pledged to honor the will of voters regarding its planned mega-wind project in Windham.

However, a recent statement to local media by spokesman Paul Copleman seems to say that an opinion poll of second-home owners not included in the town vote would constitute manipulation and intimidation, and might incline the company to renege on its promise.

“Having an elected town official validate an anti-wind group’s informal poll raises serious questions about verification accuracy and impartiality,” Copleman said in an email. “It seems to undermine the interests of the registered voters of Windham.”

To Roy Giarrusso, the owner of a vacation home in Windham, the statement sounds like a reversal in the making.

“It seems to suggest that they think the (non-binding poll) of the second-home owners would be a manipulation of the votes to be received by the residents, (which votes Iberdrola pledged to respect),” Giarrusso told Vermont Watchdog.

“I don’t get it, but we don’t want to provide them with any excuses,” he said.

Local advocacy group Friends of Windham announced Tuesday that second-home owner ballots will be counted on Nov. 9, the day after the election. That way, Iberdrola can’t accuse anyone in Windham of attempting, in any way, to influence the vote by registered voters.

The recent comments indicate that Spanish company Iberdrola – known as Avangrid in the United States – may be getting cold feet. Its controversial 97-megawatt installation would go on 5,000 acres of the Stiles Brook Forest owned by Meadowsend Timberland Ltd. Since the proposal for the Stiles Brook Wind Project first emerged in 2012, there has been staunch resistance from full- and part-time residents.

Among other concerns, Windham residents are wary about the destruction of mountain scenery, flood-prone waterways, wildlife habitats and plummeting property values.

Friends of Windham member Nancy Tips also is nervous about Iberdrola’s recent statements.

“Iberdrola expressed intention to disregard the vote by Windham’s registered voters, based on their determination that various turbine foes have manipulated and intimidated voters,” she told Watchdog in an email. “They have a history of using this identical excuse for not honoring their promises regarding votes in other communities they’ve invaded.”

Giarrusso said the poll consists of a one-question ballot being sent out to all second-home owners in town. He said the wording is the same as the question provided by Iberdrola for the real vote.

“All we’ve intended to do (is have an) informal poll, recognizing that the votes would not be counted by Iberdrola, because Iberdrola excluded second-home owners from the vote,” Giarrusso said.

Tips said the intent of the poll is simply to give non-binding advice to the Selectboard, which the group feels “perfectly free to do.”

Giarrusso said it’s important to know what second-home owners think about the project since they live in Windham part time, spend money in the local economy and account for 60 percent of the total tax revenue.

“Whether these words are a clear statement of their intent to go back on their promise or not, we are removing one possible excuse for their not honoring our registered voters’ vote,” Tips said. “We are trying to keep this in the public eye in order to short-circuit Iberdrola’s secretive and dishonest tactics.”

Iberdrola representatives did not return Watchdog’s request for comment in time for publication.