GRAFTON – Voters in this small town, which in 2016 rejected a large industrial wind project, have endorsed a new town plan that prohibits industrial and commercial wind.
On a 95-66 vote during an all-day ballot Monday, residents approved the new town plan, which bans any large wind facility, and includes other planning updates.
“We now have a town plan, after the Windham Regional Commission has given its final approval, that tracks the wishes of the voters and is compliant with Vermont laws and energy goals,” said Liisa Kissel, a member of the Grafton Planning Commission.
She said that now that the town has a formally adopted plan, the town is eligible to apply for grants, as well as being able to apply for a village center designation.
Kissel, who was one of the leaders of the group that fought the proposed Iberdrola Renewables wind facility, noted that in 2016, the town voted 235-158 against the industrial wind project.
“The planning commission long deliberated the meaning of that vote: did it apply to just one project or to industrial wind overall?” she said.
After the two negative votes in Grafton and neighboring Windham, Iberdrola followed through on its pledge and dropped its plans to build what would have been the largest wind project in the state of Vermont. Windham already had language in its town plan that banned an industrial wind project.
In the end, the planning commission concluded that Monday’s vote was a strong indication Grafton residents were opposed to utility-scale wind projects.
She said the new town plan also brings the town into compliance with Act 174, which governs renewable energy goals, and Act 171, which governs the protection of forest blocks.
Kissel noted that the vote by townspeople was a unique event, since it took a petition and a special town meeting to transfer the actual act of approval from the select board to the voters.
“This became necessary after it appeared that the select board was trying to override the wishes of the voters. So it was gratifying to see the turnout, which was similar to a regular Town Meeting turnout,” she said.
“I believe the majority who voted for the plan know that is it a compromise and the result of difficult work during a contentious time in town,” she said.
Grafton Town Administrator Bill Kearns said that because of the vote, the plan is now adopted. In addition to the ban on industrial-sized wind projects, the plan puts more restrictions on some land uses, particularly land considered “resource lands,” which he said is the majority of the land outside of the village area.
Select Board Chairman Joseph Pollio couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday, and neither could David Culver, chairman of the Grafton Planning Commission.
Grafton Town Clerk Kimberly Record said the turnout for the special vote, on a Monday in January, was good.
“It was more than I expected,” she said, while noting it was still only a fraction of the 503 registered voters in Grafton.