ST. ALBANS – The town selectboard voted to join Swanton and Fairfield in opposing the Swanton Wind project at the Public Service Board hearing during their meeting last Monday night, allocating up to $10,000 to oppose the project. The motion passed 3:2.
Selectboard members also discussed the town’s purchasing policy and Green Mountain Power’s (GMP) solar panels on Dunsmore Road.
Al Voegele, the interim town manager, said he received a request from Swanton asking the selectboard to reconsider getting involved with the Public Service Board’s legal process and join them in opposing Swanton Wind.
Voegele said the town of Swanton planned to financially contribute $10,000 and Fairfield was considering contributing anywhere from $10,000 to $15,000.
Selectboard member David McWilliams said it would be a waste of taxpayer dollars since the project isn’t even located in St. Albans Town.
“I’m going to counter that a bit,” chair Stan Dukas said. He said some taxpayers feel like the wind turbines will affect the value of their property.
Voegele asked the board to think long term. He said the town might want Swanton as a partner down the line when it has to deal with water and wastewater problems. If the town helps them now, they might be more willing to help the town in the future, Voegele said.
“I’d rather work with our neighbors than against them,” vice chair Bruce Cheeseman said. He added that the town has spent $10,000 on less important things in the past.
Selectboard member Sam Smith said the board already signed a letter asking for more local control during the siting process of alternative energy projects.
Smith said the town needs to establish a clearer position on these projects and be consistent. He said the town plan encourages alternative energy so if the selectboard votes to not support this project, the language in the plan needs to reflect that sentiment.
Cheeseman said its not that the board doesn’t support alternative energy, it’s more that they want a bigger say over the Public Service Board’s decisions.
Voegele said the Northwestern Regional Planning Commission is in the process of writing the regional plan, which will impact how the town rewrites their energy plan.
He said it will give the town more input for these projects. The Public Service Board will have to pay more attention to what the local boards want, according to Voegele. “The NRPC is still up in the air about wind turbines,” he said.
Cheeseman said the local boards should have a bigger voice in placing these things.
Smith said the planning commission is rewriting the town plan and during that process might need to make alterations to the language around energy. Smith said he would support contributing funds to change the law and give local boards more say, but what Swanton is asking for is money to stop one project.
“I’d vote to support Swanton financially,” selectboard member Bill Nihan said. He added that he think it’s important to move toward having more local control.
Dukas asked Nihan if he thinks by joining Swanton and Fairfield, the town will be moving in that direction. Nihan affirmed, saying by having several communities move in the same direction, the cost of doing business is more spread out and it brings pressure to the legislature.
Nihan also agreed with Voegele, saying the town needs to think long term when making its decision.
Smith asked what the money would specifically be going toward. Voegele said the funds would allow the towns to participate in the Public Service Board hearing, with the purpose of trying to get the Act 250 permit denied.
Nihan said hopefully the collective action of the boards coming together against this project will spurn the Public Service Board to respond to the wishes of the local communities. “This way, we get our voice heard,” Nihan said.
McWilliams asked if the town is going to contribute funds every time a nearby town opposes an alternative energy project.
“I don’t see a benefit to those turbines to this area,” Dukas argued. Cheeseman added that even GMP has voiced on television that they don’t support it.
And with that, Nihan made a motion to support Swanton’s request and contribute up to $10,000 in funds. The vote passed 3:2, with Smith and McWilliams against.
“The reason I want to be against is because the fact that we’re giving [taxpayer] money to another town,” McWilliams said, “when the taxes are already high enough.”
“Motion passes,” Dukas said.