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Wind developer Iberdrola changes plans for Stiles Brook

WINDHAM – The controversial Stiles Brook Wind Project proposal is about to change.

Developer Iberdrola Renewables has scheduled two public meetings next week to discuss revisions to the project’s size and its economic impacts. Under current plans, the 28-turbine wind farm would be the state’s largest.

The developer is not disclosing proposed changes at Stiles Brook prior to meetings next week in Grafton.

“We have been meeting, talking and listening to residents of Windham and Grafton for a long time now,” Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said Monday. “Based on those discussions, particularly as folks have discussed the positive long-term effects the wind farm could deliver to their communities, we look forward to presenting changes to the project footprint and to the community benefits package.”

The notice of pending changes to the Stiles Brook proposal led Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright – a vocal opponent of the project – to speculate that Iberdrola’s initial proposal was “fictitious.”

“They are behaving as usual – keeping everything secret ’till the last minute and all the while claiming to be working with the community,” Seawright said, adding that “the town has asked nothing of them except that they go away.”

After years of planning work, Iberdrola Renewables in October 2015 disclosed plans for 28 turbines capable of generating a combined 96.6 megawatts of power. Twenty of those windmills would be in Windham, with the remaining eight in Grafton.

The project would be constructed in Stiles Brook Forest, a 5,000-acre property owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. Construction is expected in 2019 if the proposal receives the necessary state permits.

The project has provoked staunch opposition among residents who are concerned that large turbines will negatively impact aesthetics, home values and human health. Officials in Windham, where the town plan bans commercial wind turbines, earlier this year asked the developer to walk away from the project.

But Iberdrola has fought back, accusing opponents of spreading inaccurate information. In addition to being a large source of renewable energy, Stiles Brook Wind also would pump a total of $1 million annually into the two towns’ coffers, the company has said.

It now appears that the scale of project may be changing. Iberdrola last week sent a flier to Windham residents promoting the Oct. 4 public meeting where residents will have “the opportunity to ask questions about recent changes to the project footprint, community benefits package and the development of the Stiles Brook Wind Project.”

The flier doesn’t offer any elaboration.

As of Monday afternoon, Grafton Selectboard Chairman Ron Pilette said the town “has not received anything comparable” to Windham’s flier. But Copleman said there will be a similar meeting in Grafton on Oct. 5.

While it’s up to the state Public Service Board to approve or reject the Stiles Brook project, Iberdrola has pledged to abide by the results of Australian ballot elections in November in each of the towns.

Some have expressed concern that Grafton won’t be ready for a vote on Election Day, Nov. 8. Pilette on Monday said the Selectboard may decide that matter at its Oct. 3 meeting.

Windham already has committed to a Nov. 8 vote on the wind proposal. The ballot language adopted by the town wouldn’t be affected by changes in Iberdrola’s site plan: It asks only whether residents “support development of the Stiles Brook Wind Project, as proposed by Iberdrola Renewables.”

Seawright speculated that the developer might propose “fewer turbines and perhaps more money.” But even if Stiles Brook wind gets smaller, Seawright said that won’t change his opinion.

Seawright believes the project “will do absolutely nothing to affect climate change” given the volume of fossil-fuel use worldwide. And he contends Stiles Brook’s environmental impacts are unacceptable regardless of how many turbines are constructed.

“A scaled-down plan will still require road building, wetland destruction (and) removing the intact ecosystem there which absorbs water and minimizes the consequences of the increase in heavy downpours” caused by climate change, Seawright said.

Copleman on Monday offered a much different view of the Stiles Brook proposal.

“As climate change represents a threat to the way of life for so many Vermont businesses and families, as well as the Stiles Brook tract itself, we’re looking for ways that a community partnership can help mitigate climate change and deliver benefits for all residents of Grafton and Windham,” Copleman said.