It certainly wasn’t the biggest story to come out of last Tuesday’s election, but it was an important one nonetheless.
Voters in the small Vermont towns of Grafton (population about 670) and Windham (roughly 328) resoundingly said no to an offer some might have thought they couldn’t refuse. The two towns rejected a bid to site a large wind farm across their common border, and, in doing so, said: We will not be bought.
Spanish energy giant Iberdrola Renewables, which has in recent years been targeting northern New England for large-scale wind facilities – it’s behind the 12-turbine wind project in Lempster – sought to put two dozen 500-foot-tall wind turbines along a ridge in the Stiles Brook Forest.
The two towns, just west of Rockingham, would have greatly benefited financially from the project in any case. The taxes alone, poured into their small-town economies, would have, by some estimates, halved the tax bills of homeowners.
The success of the plan still in doubt, however, Iberdrola upped the ante. It offered an additional annual payment to each town, and in case anyone didn’t get the point, it announced the extra money was intended specifically for registered voters – $1,162 per voter in Windham and $428 for each Grafton voter. The payouts would be funneled through a third party, because not handing checks directly to voters would mean they weren’t bought. Right?
The company naturally denied the offer was in any way an attempt to bribe voters into approving the plan. We’re sure company officials were shocked – SHOCKED! – at the idea anyone would take it as such.
But there really isn’t any other way to take it. And if there was any chance the project would be approved, this offer certainly doomed it. The company promised to abide by the voters’ wishes, and the project failed miserably, falling 235 to 158 in Windham and 181 to 101 in Grafton.
Iberdrola misread its audience. These are the type of Vermonters who made Tunbridge dairy farmer Fred Tuttle the state’s Republican candidate for U.S. Senate when a Bay State millionaire tried to carpetbag his way to the seat in 1998. They have no patience for those who would take them for fools. So hooray for them.
In a way, it’s too bad, though. There were plenty of reasons to approve the project. In addition to the huge tax benefit, the plan would have generated 82.8 megawatts of electricity, especially valuable in a state that recently lost its biggest generator, the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant.
There are good arguments for renewable energy as a key element of our national power grid, and wind should play a part in that. Siting turbines will continue to be a thorny issue, though, as residents and nature lovers keep opposing specific projects while advocating for the technology in principle. Just as everyone seems to think Congress stinks but their own representative is OK, wind power is often cited among the solutions to lessening our dependence on oil, gas and coal, but no one wants turbines in their area.
Iberdrola’s reprehensible antics in this case won’t make it any easier to overcome that dynamic.
The plan may have failed on its merits anyway. Many residents in the two towns were already opposed to the idea of wind turbines, and there are other players fighting any advances in wind-based energy production.
But in attempting to grease the skids through an insulting offer, the company simply blew it.
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