Many towns across Vermont are beginning to budget for next year. Our town of Windham may have a large new expense, as we continue to fight the threat posed by Iberdrola/Avangrid, the multi-national wind developer that came to town four years ago. Windham is among Vermont’s smallest towns, and Iberdrola/Avangrid is among the largest of the corporations that are currently raking billions of dollars out of the US Treasury into their over-sized trouser pockets. This is truly a David and Goliath mismatch if ever there was one.
Iberdrola’s reps have said that they respected our carefully developed Town Plan which prohibited industrial wind. They respected it but planned to grind it beneath their master’s boot heel anyway, and for four years they have done just that. Now, a flash point approaches, and we suspect that we may finally have to take to the battlefield. The flash point is a town-wide referendum on Nov. 8. Iberdrola says it will honor a “no” vote and leave, so a lot is riding on this vote. History suggests that it’s likely Iberdrola will find a way to renege even if the town votes “no,” and then we’d need to take to the battlefield anyway.
Today’s battlefield is not like the one where David and Goliath met. It’s an air conditioned chamber with judges, lawyers, expert witnesses, and busy clerks. Dollars are slung instead of stones. So, to circle back to the beginning, we’ll need money from Windham taxpayers to pay our legal fees. What else can we do? To do otherwise is to betray the brave willingness to fight for what is ours that was laid down by Vermont’s Green Mountain Boys.
So we’ll fight. But no matter the outcome, our community will have been wounded. We’ve been tense for a while, and when Iberdrola recently stated its intention to unveil its latest proposal of “community benefits,” our tension was increased by rumors that the corporation had funded a small group of people to negotiate with them. The Iberdrola-appointed group provided the cover for the developer’s contention that its new plan “responded to community concerns,” even though the group operated in secrecy. No one knew how it was formed, whether it included Windham residents, when or where it met, or what its outcomes were. Other Vermont communities that might be future “beneficiaries” of developers’ gropings might want to remember this peculiar tactic, for it is an especially corrosive one.
The current Select Board was elected by the people of Windham. The wind-project position of each of the two-member majority was known at the time each was elected. Members of the Select Board and the town of Windham Planning Commission have been working for several years to collect relevant data and information on the site proposed for the installation, on Iberdrola’s background, and on energy policy as it relates to our town and the state of Vermont. We found that our town is an inappropriate location for a project of this type, and prohibited such projects in our Town Plan.
At a recent meeting, held prior to Iberdrola’s unveiling of its current proposal, the Select Board discussed the need to budget for legal fees to defend our town and our plan. A person attending the meeting asserted that the upcoming vote would favor the project, thereby relieving the town of the need for defense. The Select Board, she said must succumb to the “tyranny of the majority” and surrender to Iberdrola. Although we had no way of knowing it at the time, the person who spoke so confidently about Iberdrola’s rosy prospects was one, currently the only identified one, of Iberdrola’s hand-picked group of secret conspirators. Thus, she knew that Iberdrola would be offering Windham voters a bribe of around $1,000 a year for a favorable vote on Nov. 8.
So the burning questions for Vermonters might be these: will Iberdrola’s scheme – to select and fund a group of unknown citizens, in order to bypass a legally elected local government in pursuit of limited self-interest – succeed? What will be the basis for town government, if a company backed with unlimited U.S. taxpayer money can simply establish a fund to pay voters for a favorable vote?
This commentary is by Frank Seawright who is Chairman of the town of Windham Select Board.
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