Phil Scott won the Vermont governor’s race by a 52-43 percent margin, and turnout in towns with wind energy fights suggests turbines had something to do with it.
Vermont’s election drew high turnout, with 68 percent of voters casting ballots for candidates and local issues. Of the issues that mattered most to Vermonters, wind energy siting was among the most divisive during the campaign.
Governor-elect Scott called for a moratorium on industrial wind development, while Democrat challenger Sue Minter said industrial-scale wind farms would continue to play a central role in the state’s energy future.
Clerks in multiple towns told Vermont Watchdog that Scott’s position was a hit with voters.
“I think his vote was of a stronger margin because of his stance on renewable energy,” said Windham Town Clerk Joeanne Chlebogiannis.
Her town and neighboring Grafton voted strongly against a proposed 24-turbine wind farm by Spanish energy company Iberdrola. In Windham, the vote was 181-101 against the project.
“I believe more people came out to vote strictly regarding the turbine issue,” Chlebogiannis said. “If you compare the list of the voters, people who generally don’t vote, voted.”
According to Windham’s voter list, 287 voters cast ballots in this year’s election, up from 173 voters in the 2012 presidential election. With only 317 registered voters, turnout for Windham was about 91 percent.
Cynthia Gibbs, assistant town clerk for Grafton, said 406 voters, out of 517 registered, cast ballots this year – a 79 percent turnout. In 2012, Grafton’s turnout was 72 percent, according to election tallies.
Gibbs suggested the wind energy issue could have played a role in motivating voters to get out and vote.
“One woman did say it was the first time ever she was voting Republican, and I assume she was voting for Phil,” Gibbs said. “What he said about wind turbines that he wants to hold off from building anymore, and I think that did make a lot of people here in Grafton favor him for that.”
On the question of whether to approve Iberdrola’s 24-turbine project, Grafton voters said no by a margin of 235-158.
Up north in Holland, in Orleans County, Vera Renewables recently filed a pre-application for a certificate of public good on a proposed single wind turbine. Diane Judd, the town’s clerk, said a non-binding poll showed residents reject the wind project by a count of 314-59. Another 44 said they were undecided.
“I think it mattered who the candidates were,” Judd said.
She added that it was the highest turnout she has seen for a general election – 303 votes out of 398 registered. “We had a phenomenal turnout; we got 77 percent. We’ve never had anywhere near that much and I’ve been a ballot clerk for a long time.”
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group opposed to large-scale renewables, said controversies over wind energy have been influencing elections since the primaries.
“If you look at the primary results for the Democrats, Peter Galbraith [a Democrat strongly against industrial wind] carried Irasburg, Newark, Morgan, Windham and Grafton – those were the towns he won in. Those were a clear indication for me on how the [Election Day] votes were going to go in Windham and Grafton on the wind issue.”
All five towns favored Scott over Minter on Election Day.
Readsboro, a town with an existing wind energy project now being expanded, also saw a spike in voter turnout this year.
“We did [have high turnout], but I don’t know why they decided to show up for this one,” said Amber Holland, who said the 390 votes cast this year were well above the 340 votes cast in 2012.
Smith said having Scott as governor will affect wind energy fights in Vermont.
“This really changed the landscape for Vermont and it’s all positive,” she said. “Now we can work together and collaborate and not shut out good people with good ideas. The reign of the club is over.”
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