Remember Windham and Grafton, those plucky southern Vermont communities threatened for over four years by the wind-turbine giant, Iberdrola? Now, we're gearing up to vote against Iberdrola's plan for us sometime in the fall. They've promised to leave if a majority of registered voters don't want them here, a promise solemnly echoed by their cronies in the Vermont Legislature as proof that Vermont towns are heard when it comes to energy siting.
Cue the latest salvo from Iberdrola's playbook. They want Windham and Grafton to "negotiate" with them for a better deal, before the fall vote. But some of us are looking at historical precedent and saying "no thanks." We ask ourselves: did David "negotiate" with Goliath? Ditto for the three little pigs and the big bad wolf, the Lilliputians and Gulliver, Jack and the Giant, Dorothy and the Wicked Witch. We'd like to think we're among their excellent company.
Plus, we have six reasons to just say "No" to "negotiation" on Iberdrola's terms.
1. It's just plain gross. Why would we appear resigned to this project as a foregone conclusion, in which our only hope is to minimize collateral damage to the extent Iberdrola will permit? The idea is nauseating, also risible.
2. A vocal majority in Windham support protection for all our citizens. At a recent special town meeting, the main take-away was the moral principle that all our property owners deserve protection from potential harm caused by the turbine installation. This principle was repeated, with gusto, by many citizens who rose to speak, and wouldn't be served by the craven offering of a few sacrificial citizens in return for bon-bons, a likely scenario in any "negotiation."
3. In order to negotiate, we would actually have to know stuff. In the parlance of negotiation gurus, "first, do your homework." We can't, because the knowledge we would need to negotiate protections for all our citizens doesn't exist: On health effects, no studies have been done of the health effects of proximity to wind turbines. There is a wealth of very unpleasant anecdotal evidence, but no scientific studies, which would be the only basis for effective protective standards. And these wouldn't need to be negotiated. They would be givens; on property values and rights, no conclusive studies exist of the effect of industrial wind installations on property values, and on our right to "quiet use" of our property; and on the effectiveness of environmental protections, no proof exists that Vermont's environmental-mitigation standards are effective. Distant replacement of bear habitat and stormwater controls are two of many questionable mitigation activities for which studies have not been completed.
4. The fundamental lousiness of the chosen site. "Negotiated" details could not alter the basis of our opposition, which includes: Outrageous proximity to homes. In Windham, nearly all homes are within three miles of at least one turbine; some 21 percent of homes would lie between one-half and one mile of at least one turbine. Destruction of environmentally important and fragile ridgeline: increased flooding and destruction of wildlife habitat.
5. Secrets and lies. To negotiate, all parties must be clear about what is under negotiation. We're not clear and can't be, because Iberdrola keeps secrets. For example, Iberdrola won't explain the discrepancy between the 96.6 megawatts they plan to install and the 73.5M megawatts listed when they were still in the ISO NE queue. That's nearly a seven-turbine discrepancy. Are those seven turbines padding for them to give away as a "concession" in negotiating with the town? Probably. Their plan shows seven turbines that are close enough to threaten the VELCO transmission line with thrown ice and VELCO would never allow them. But we don't know that. And we don't know what else we don't know. (Unknown unknowns, anyone?)
6. Power. Simple enough, to negotiate, you have to have actual power to negotiate. We're pretty sure we don't have power to get Iberdrola to do anything against its best interests. We can't require protective standards and mitigations beyond those required by state law. Iberdrola can make changes after filing for and after receiving a Certificate of Public Good from the Vermont Public Service Board, even when they have a previous signed agreement with their "host" towns. For example, the law allows the developer to change turbine height and blade length, after the CPG is issued. (Both these dimensions are big deals to turbine neighbors.)
So that's why, if you come to our towns, you might see new lawn signs. Next to the ones we already have that say "No wind turbines," you might see "Dorothy didn't surrender and neither will we."
Nancy Tips is a member of the Friends of Windham.