Voters renounce Stiles Brook Wind plan

Stiles Brook
Windham officials sort through piles of ballots Tuesday night before counting votes cast in a referendum on the Stiles Brook Wind Project. Photo by Mike Faher/VTDigger

WINDHAM – Voters in Grafton and Windham on Tuesday resoundingly rejected a 24-turbine wind project proposed for a ridgeline separating the two towns.

In Grafton, residents voted 235 against and 158 in favor of the Stiles Brook Wind Project, according to town officials. In Windham, the vote was 181 against and 101 in favor.

Developer Iberdrola Renewables will honor those votes and “cease development of the Stiles Brook Wind Project unless the communities reconsider their decision,” spokesman Paul Copleman said.

Copleman also said the company was “disappointed by the unfortunate outcome” of the balloting. But opponents of the project immediately celebrated.

“I really did think it would be like this,” said Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright. “Living here in New England, I think there’s a lot of people who do have respect for democracy and local government.”

In Grafton, opposition groups issued a statement saying they will “fight to the end to preserve our ridgelines in Vermont. We will seek energy solutions that make less of a footprint while respecting Grafton’s own unique environment and character.”

Prior to Tuesday’s vote, Iberdrola spent years developing the Stiles Brook proposal. Initial plans called for 28 turbines to be built in Stiles Brook Forest, but the company downsized that by four turbines in early October.

That move was designed to lessen the project’s visual and noise impacts, Iberdrola said at the time.

Simultaneously, the company increased the “community benefit” package for the two towns from $1 million to $1.5 million annually. That included “partnership payments” totaling $565,000 annually to residents of Windham and Grafton if the wind project was constructed.

At the time, critics said the payment offer amounted to bribery or undue influence on the pending votes. The state attorney general’s office disagreed, though Secretary of State Jim Condos eventually spoke out against any payments offered to registered voters.

That was just one example in a long line of disputes over the Stiles Brook proposal. Critics, including several Windham officials, vehemently argued that the turbines could have negative impacts on aesthetics, property values, the environment and even human health.

Two grass-roots opposition organizations – Grafton Woodlands Group and Friends of Windham – sprang up to oppose the project.

But Iberdrola and Stiles Brook property owner Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. defended the plan, saying the Stiles Brook turbines would be an important source of renewable energy and would combat the effects of climate change.

Iberdrola said turbines would not harm neighbors’ health and accused opponents of spreading false information.

An energy project like Stiles Brook requires a state certificate of public good, and towns don’t have veto power. But Iberdrola administrators repeatedly said they would abide by the results of Australian Ballot votes by residents of Windham and Grafton.

Both towns also conducted surveys of nonresident property owners after there was an outcry by second-homeowners, who cannot participate in a town election. Those surveys are supposed to be tallied in both towns on Wednesday.

But those nonresident results won’t have any effect on Iberdrola’s decision to suspend the project.

“We are grateful for our supporters’ efforts and for the significant portion of the local community that supported the project,” Copleman said Tuesday night. “We are confident that the project would be a valuable and significant benefit to the local communities of Grafton and Windham, while also making an impact towards energy independence and climate change.”

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  • Stephanie Kaplan

    Hooray! Bravo to the good people of Windham and Grafton who worked so hard to protect their communities from this terrible project.

  • Lydia Pope France

    A landslide for a Phil Scott, and a landslide vote against wind. The people HAVE spoken! Knowledge and understanding won out over dollars for votes.

    And I leave you with my favorite quote … “The humblest citizen of all the land, when clad in the armor of a righteous cause, is stronger than all the hosts of error”. – William Jennings Bryan

    • Jim Manahan

      Amen I say to you.

  • Kathy Leonard

    The mountains have spoken through those who love and defend them. Congratulations to all who have worked so hard to retain those precious ecosystems that we humans and non-humans all depend on.

  • Bruce Wilkie

    Iberdola is doing the right thing by respecting the wishes of the townspeople. Now if VERA and Blittersdorf would respect the wishes of the people of Holland, who voted 314 to 59 AGAINST the industrial wind project in our town, they could do the right thing as well.
    They need to abandon the Dairy Air wind project.

    • Lydia Pope France

      Never stop fighting!

  • Thank you to the citizens of Windham and Grafton for standing strong. Thank you as well for setting party affiliation aside and helping put Phil Scott over the top. You have demonstrated that party politics takes a back seat to our environment, and that’s a good thing.

    • Lydia Pope France

      Thank you Joe Benning for all that you have done. Now we need help to make sure this is the end once and for all. We were delighted to help push Phil Scott past the post, and now we as many who voted for him are expecting a big reset in Montpelier. And BTW, he didn’t just won, he whooped! The people HAVE spoken!

  • Kim Fried

    I so agree with Senator Benning that the environment should trump party affiliations and profit motives. We need to begin over and develop realistic climate strategies that are correct for Vermont and its citizens.

  • Grafton anti-wind groups said “We will seek energy solutions that make less of a footprint”. Will you do that soon? Will you tell us what solution you have, and will you be sure to implement it promptly? That way, your towns can prevent the present burning of one billion, two hundred and forty-two million cubic feet of fracked natural gas every year. That will earn my respect and gratitude. But if you don’t, if you were “just kidding” when you said that, well, then, I don’t have any respect for you whatsoever.

  • Howard Ires

    Although Iberdrola and Meadowsend had the best of intentions when they voluntarily put this project up for town votes the resulting strife in our towns is a good illustration of why the Public Service Board needs to take responsibility for energy policy and siting. If it were up to individual towns to site power generation and transmission lines we would still be reading by candlelight and communicating by carrier pigeon.

  • Paul Drayman

    I have two comments pertinent to the subject of wind energy in Vermont.
    First, the state legislature, as well as this company and the wind industry in general, falsely perpetuate the idea that these projects move Vermont forward toward independence using renewable sources. Really? A foreign company wants to build a wind field on Vermont land from which, nearly all the power produced goes to satisfy demand somewhere else?
    Second, if Iberdrola wanted to pursue it, even if those towns were allowed to have a “voice” in the siting process, it would be Iberdrola and the Public Service Board that have authority to approve and build this project. Even current legislation supports an industry marketing scheme to pacify residents and deflate the energy of the opposition to wind development. Vermont towns do need and have the right to veto power, especially when the development does not significantly address the energy needs of “Vermont” citizens and towns.

  • Grafton anti-wind groups said “We will seek energy solutions that make less of a footprint”. Will they do this soon? By doing so, Grafton and Windham can, single-handed, stop the ongoing burning of one billion, two hundred and forty-two million cubic feet of fracked natural gas every year. That will earn my respect and gratitude. I will be watching their progress on this honorable work. Thanks.

    • Paul Drayman

      I have made many comments on this site and other venues that may seem in opposition to wind and solar, but I am actually in favor of these technologies. Renewable energy to replace all this extraction and burning of fossil fuels is an honorable endeavor. The problem is that the claims of the industry and lawmakers here are that these projects will bring Vermont closer to energy independence, which is a blatant falsehood perpetuated by the renewables industry. Are you willing to carve up Vermont and all else that goes with that, to satisfy the energy needs of big cities, especially when they are not willing to make these choices themselves. It is a convenience and profit motive for them, and virtually all negative for us.

      • Nice try, Mr. Drayman—but not good enough. Not by a longshot.

        You must support energy development anywhere the industry chooses to go (with the exception of Camel’s Hump, which is sacred). If you do not, the Arbiters of Righteousness (you know who they are) will label you a climate denier, an apostate, and “unmutual and disharmonious.”

  • Prices for renewable energy credits are dropping. The Washington Electric Cooperative has requested a rate hike to make up for lowered revenue from selling the RECs from their “renewable energy” projects.

    I wonder if the declining price of RECs made it easier for Iberdrola to walk away.

    A few years ago, Seneca Mountain Wind walked away from their NEK wind project. They cited community opposition, but they didn’t make their decision until the cost of connecting the project to the grid was calculated: $86M.

  • We Vermonters love and cherish the environment.