Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright, a vocal critic of the Stiles Brook project, was unimpressed with Iberdrola’s new pitch. “We’ve been saying from the outset that this is an inappropriate site for such a project,” Seawright said. “There’s no amount of money that will change that base, bare fact, OK? It just is an inappropriate site.”
WINDHAM – Iberdrola Renewables is promising a bigger financial reward to the towns of Windham and Grafton for hosting the state’s largest windfarm.
Iberdrola has boosted the project’s “community benefits” package by 50 percent. The wind developer is promising a combined $1.5 million annually to the two towns, up from $1 million. Some of that cash would be allocated in the form of “direct partnership payments” doled out to residents to spend as they wish.
Meanwhile, the company has also reduced the number of wind turbines. Iberdrola has eliminated four of the 28 turbines in the original design. The company says the change, which affects only the portion of the project situated in Windham, will make the wind power site less visible and will reduce noise impacts.
Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said the changes are the company’s response to residents’ concerns and requests.
“This is really a reflection of the conversations that we’ve been having,” Copleman said outside a crowded Windham Elementary School, where the new details were announced. “We have made an effort, through a four-plus year process, to very transparently engage with folks and solicit feedback.”
At 24 turbines, and with a total power output of 82.8 megawatts, the reconfigured Stiles Brook Wind Project still would be Vermont’s largest wind power site. But Iberdrola is framing the changes as an attempt to alleviate local concerns.
“These four in particular were some of the more visible turbines,” Copleman said. He added that, “by removing them, there is – from a permitting perspective and, again, from a community feedback perspective – a better sound profile.”
Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright, a vocal critic of the Stiles Brook project, was unimpressed with Iberdrola’s new pitch.
“We’ve been saying from the outset that this is an inappropriate site for such a project,” Seawright said. “There’s no amount of money that will change that base, bare fact, OK? It just is an inappropriate site.”
The Stiles Brook proposal, which has been in the works for more than four years, has spurred intense backlash among those who worry about the turbines’ possible negative impacts on aesthetics, property values and human health.
In Windham, where the town plan bans large turbines, officials have clashed often with Iberdrola and have testified before the state Legislature on energy-siting issues. In Grafton, an anti-turbine group established an office on Main Street, and the town’s biggest taxpayer last week announced its opposition to the wind project.
But Iberdrola has lobbied hard for Stiles Brook, accusing critics of spreading false information. The company has touted the project as a major source of renewable energy that can “help mitigate climate change” while also offering a significant financial boost to both towns’ coffers.
The state approves wind projects, but Iberdrola has promised to abide by the results of a local vote on Stiles Brook in November. Windham has scheduled that vote for Election Day, and it now appears Grafton also is heading for a Nov. 8 vote.
A little over a month before that balloting, Iberdrola called Tuesday night’s meeting – and another scheduled for Wednesday night in Grafton – to discuss revisions to the project.
Grafton still would host eight turbines. But four of the 20 windmills that had been proposed in Windham have disappeared in Iberdrola’s new plan.
A map displayed at Tuesday’s meeting showed that a number of the remaining turbines have been shifted slightly. Iberdrola representatives said that’s partly in response to meteorological data but also is an attempt to move some windmills farther from homes.
The redesigned project remains economically viable in spite of its diminished size and power output, Copleman said. “The project ultimately has to make sense for us, but it has to make sense for the community as well,” he said. “And we think this is a project that still does that.”
New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., which owns the 5,000-acre forest that would host the turbines, has no issue with the changes.
“We have been here and continue to be here to understand what the best siting and best proposal possible is, based on the (wind) resource and the community,” said Jeremy Turner, Meadowsend’s managing forester.
The new design, Turner said, “is obviously far better, because it takes on-the-ground feedback and incorporates it into the project.”
Iberdrola also is incorporating a bigger financial payout into its Stiles Brook plans. The company initially had proposed paying Windham $715,000 annually, and that number has risen to $1 million per year.
The payment is broken down into four categories:
• Iberdrola would pay $395,000 in property taxes to Windham. That’s more than half the the town’s current budget.
• There also would be a $105,000 supplemental payment to the town government.
• Iberdrola would allocate $150,000 annually for “community use,” defined by the company as money for “local charities, fire departments and educational scholarships for local children.”
• Another $350,000 would be budgeted for payments to registered voters “to offset their own expenses, such as education taxes and energy bills,” the developer said. In Windham, this equates to a minimum of $1,162 for every voter, according to Iberdrola’s calculations.
The logistics of the latter two disbursements – the money for residents and for “community use” – were unclear Tuesday. Copleman said Iberdrola wouldn’t be making payments directly, and the company envisions “some sort of third-party oversight, third-party management” for those monies.
Grafton’s economic package also is increasing, from the $285,000 annual payment originally proposed to $500,000. Copleman didn’t provide a breakdown, but he said Grafton’s money will be allocated in ways that are similar to the Windham proposal.
Carol Lind, a co-director of the anti-turbine organization Grafton Woodlands Group, said Iberdrola is “buying voters” in an attempt to gain a favorable result in next month’s balloting. But Copleman said the Stiles Brook proposal is not unusual.
“All of our projects that are up and running across the country deliver economic benefits to the community in a variety of ways,” Copleman said. “This is a reflection of what we have heard in terms of what people think makes the most sense for their participation and for their neighbors’ participation.”
The physical changes and financial incentives are unlikely to quiet the debate over Stiles Brook’s impacts. Seawright argues that the project still will harm the ridgeline ecosystem and increase the potential for devastating flooding – especially in Grafton.
Windham resident Nancy Dyke also is a skeptic. “There are still too many turbines in too close a proximity (to homes),” Dyke said after looking over Iberdrola’s plans.
Additionally, Dyke is concerned about health impacts, particularly from low frequency infrasound emitted by large turbines. Iberdrola has dismissed such concerns, but some contend infrasound can cause medical problems.
Dyke said she generally favors wind power. “But I think the siting of these projects is absolutely critical,” she said. “And we don’t want to be collateral damage.”
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