Residents of Windham and Grafton are ready to have the final say at the ballot box after enduring a year-long debate over a 24-turbine wind energy project.
“The pressures being put on (residents) is really driving them crazy, putting them over the edge,” said Windham Town Clerk and Treasurer Kimberly Record. “It can be a disadvantage, too, for what they are trying to accomplish.”
Since residents first learned details of the Stiles Brook Wind Project in October 2015, residents have endured continuous debate over its potential benefits and drawbacks. While Tuesday’s vote is nonbinding, Spanish renewable energy developer Iberdrola has pledged to respect voters’ wishes.
Windham has 517 registered voters. Of that number, Record said her office received 93 requests for early voting ballots, with at least 80 returned as of Monday morning.
Record also said the turbine issue is spilling over into the gubernatorial election, with pro-turbine voters generally favoring Democrat Sue Minter, who backs industrial wind. Anti-turbine voters are gravitating toward Republican Phil Scott, who vowed to protect Vermont’s ridgelines from Big Wind if elected governor.
For the lieutenant governor’s race, Democrat/Progressive David Zuckerman supports well-sited wind energy, while Republican Randy Brock opposes new wind farms in Vermont.
Last week, Iberdrola sent multiple mailers to residents that discussed financial rebates to towns, statistics about the project’s land use, and warnings about the consequences of global warming.
“The proposed Stiles Brook Wind Project would offer a substantial positive impact on the economies of Windham and Grafton, promote rural vitality, help preserve working forest that is open to the community, and help fight climate change,” Iberdrola Senior Business Developer Walter Meisner wrote in one of the mailers.
Sam Battaglino, a Grafton resident, said he thinks the mailings are a last-minute act of desperation for Iberdrola.
“I don’t think it’s swayed anybody’s minds, at least it hasn’t for the people I know,” he said. “I think they’ve found it to be annoying, and that’s about it. I don’t think there’s any truth to any of it.”
One of the cards highlights Iberdrola’s proposed annual partnership program payments of $1,162 to full-time Winhdam residents. Full-time Grafton residents would receive $428 annually. Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos criticized the payment scheme late last month, saying the plan created “a direct line between the money and the vote.”
Battalion said residents need to weigh the short term benefits against the long term costs of the project.
“There is a benefit to the town … but in the long run I see no benefit at all,” he said. “This project, if it does go through, it’s going to be here for over 20 years.”
Anna Vesely, co-director of the Grafton Woodlands Group and director of Defenders of the Green Mountain – groups opposing to the project – said the money is contingent on numerous uncertainties, including the financial state of Iberdrola and proper approval from regulators.
“The project would have to successfully go through the Public Service Board, with all of those payments approved as part of the package,” she said. “Maybe the Public Service Board will look at those community payments and say they are inappropriate.”
Another Iberdrola mailer says the project takes up less than 3 percent of the Stiles Brook Forest, and that 7.5 miles of space would be protected forest for nature and recreation. Grafton resident Carol Lynd said she wasn’t persuaded by the claim.
“I realize there is a lot of other land that wouldn’t be developed, but there’s a lot of damage that would be done by building the roads and all the concrete,” she said. “There would be flood issues, concerns about the animals, concerns about blasting during hibernating season and birds of prey that pass by. So, it doesn’t matter that they were only going to develop 3 percent of the land – there’s still a lot of destruction.”
And another card stokes global warming fears, claiming that “extreme weather events, particularly the high temperature thaws” are wreaking havoc for local communities. It also says global warming is causing “invasive-exotic diseases and insects” to decimate local wildlife.
To this, Lynd said the turbines produce only on windy days will do nothing to affect global CO2 levels. She also noted that renewable energy advocates don’t say how much CO2 is produced during the manufacture of the turbine components and related infrastructure.
Battaglino said visitors might not want to visit Grafton if the turbines are built, and that the town “lives or dies with tourism.”
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