Opponents of the Stiles Brook Wind Project say the developer’s attempt to sweeten the deal for towns ahead of Election Day amounts to buying votes.
This week, Spanish renewable energy producer Iberdrola sweetened the pot for residents of Windam and Grafton by increasing payouts to the two towns and allotting Windham residents a personal annual payment of $1,162 per voter.
The move is essentially bribery, say opponents of the now-reduced 24 turbine wind project. Residents of Windham are set for a non-binding vote on the project on Nov. 8, and it appears that voters in Grafton may also weigh in that same day. Iberdrola said it will honor the wishes of the towns’ legal residents.
“Setting aside a large pot of money that is promised to registered voters, only if the vote on November 8th goes Iberdrola’s way, seems to me to fit the definition of a bribe,” Nancy Tips, a spokesperson for the opposition group Friends of Windham, said in a statement.
“Regardless of its intention, it appears to me like an effort to buy votes.”
Though Iberdrola also reduced the proposed wind farm from 28 turbines to 24, it would still be the largest wind turbine project in Vermont. Iberdola said the reduction was a response to community feedback and showed the company’s respect of residents’ voices.
In the new compensation proposal for Windham, Iberdrola would hand over annual payments of $150,000 for local volunteer programs, charities, or scholarships. The company would also pay $395,000 in property taxes – a figure over half the town’s budget. A supplemental payment of $105,000 would go to the town, and $350,000 would be allocated to registered voters.
No breakdown of Grafton’s compensation is yet available, but it too is increasing, from $285,000 annually to $500,000.
However, Friends of Windham and their Grafton counterpart, Grafton Woodlands Group, say the new proposal actually takes more control away from voters, turning general payments to the town into Iberdrola-administered funds.
Both groups have approached the Attorney General’s office to investigate whether Iberdrola’s proposal is legal.
Anna Vesely, co-director of Grafton Woodlands Group, says Iberdrola’s corporate tactics to pressure voters are “outrageous.”
For many residents, the increased financial benefits don’t outweigh their original concerns. Residents have long been concerned with potential noise, visibility, flood and water contamination caused by the critical placement of towers on the primary runoff path to the valley’s watershed.
“Not only does this scheme reek of unethical payoffs, undue influence on the upcoming vote, and general big corporation deceit, but let’s not forget the irreversible environmental impact and devastation to 5,000 acres of pristine Vermont ridgeline forest,” said Windham property owner Dan Carluccio.
“In the end it’s the people of Windham, Grafton and other nearby towns who will suffer, regardless of the money factors. In essence, we are the losers. The real winners will be Iberdrola, Meadowsend Timberlands and whichever big city gets the power generated by this senseless project. Surely it will not benefit the people living in the shadow of the 500-foot wind turbines.”