Another view: Iberdrola's offer reflects town folks' divergent views
We three participated in the negotiations with Iberdrola, the developer for the possible Stiles Brook Wind Project, and we support the resulting economic partnership proposed for Windham. We chose to be involved to ensure that all views on the possible wind farm were considered and the best benefits and protections were secured. We believe the wind farm is likely to be approved, and we acted because our Select Board refused to even discuss the possibility.
The Stiles Brook site is as good as one gets in Vermont. It is located on a plateau between two ridge lines, so only the tops of the turbines will be seen. The site already has massive electrical transmission lines running through it with easy access to the grid. It has been logged already, and rudimentary roads exist from years of marble being extracted and hauled from there. One party, Meadowsend Timberland Limited, owns and works all the acreage involved, and Iberdrola has years of experience developing and managing wind energy projects. Vermont has made a commitment to fight global warming by increasing wind generation, and the Public Service Board makes its final determinations based upon the common good of all Vermonters, not the tiny percentage of the state's total population located here. Like it or not, we believe that sooner or later there will be a wind farm on MTL's land.
When Iberdrola sought to discuss the project, our Select Board responded with a simple but emphatic "No! Go away!" For four years, the majority of our Select Board members used their power to consistently oppose the wind farm and silence proponents. In January of this year, a group formed (ourselves included) to address this bias and push for a fairer process. In April, this Process Group presented an appeal to the Select Board signed by 67 residents asking that town representatives talk with Iberdrola to get answers to questions and to ensure the best benefits and protections. The Select Board did not respond. In June, a follow-up letter was sent reiterating the appeal. Again, there was no response to residents, but two of the three Select Board members sent a letter to Iberdrola ordering them to cease their project.
With time running out before a vote on the project by town's residents, the Process Group invited an attorney, Richard Saudek, to speak at a public meeting about using his expertise to negotiate with Iberdrola independently of the Select Board. With Richard explaining that doing so was legal, and with many there expressing support, we decided to move forward. The Process Group met again and selected the three of us to work with Richard and meet with Iberdrola. We three know our town well and understand all opinions on the wind farm. Collectively, we three have lived in Windham nearly 100 years, have served in town offices over 50 years, and have three generations of extended family in the area.
Funds provided by Iberdrola were placed into an escrow account to pay for expenses associated with negotiations, a common practice in cases of this kind. We used the fund to pay Richard and to hire independent experts to examine Iberdrola's studies on visual impact and sound. Their reports gave us no major quarrels with Iberdrola's information, but we told them the concerns of wind farm opponents related to the number, location, and sound of the turbines, and we recommended that they decrease the number and change the locations of those closest to homes.
We determined that the town would be further protected by the many requirements a wind energy developer must meet in Vermont's permitting process in order to acquire a Certificate of Public Good, such as detailed plans for building, limiting sound, containing storm water, protecting wetlands, limiting impact on wildlife, decommissioning, etc. All of these plans must be approved and are enforceable.
We also looked for ways to support our town's individuals and institutions, so that everyone would feel similar benefits from the project besides addressing global warming. Originally, Iberdrola proposed paying $715,000 total to the town annually from which municipal taxes could be lowered. The Friends of Windham criticized this because it would have lesser benefit for those residents who have lower-assessed properties. So to provide an equal financial benefit, we recommended the approach used in Alaska and other places where energy companies give through a third party trust an annual payment to each local, full-time resident for the use of the resources in the locale. We also suggested lowering the amount paid to the town government and adding annual payments for the Windham Volunteer Fire Department, the Windham School Per Pupil Equalization Fund, and educational scholarships for local children.
Iberdrola did further engineering and financial analyses and ultimately accepted our demands which had been suggested by those opposed, neutral, and in favor of the project. The annual payments to Windham now total $1 million annually, up nearly 40 percent from their original offer, and every individual, full-time resident of Windham can receive a yearly payment of over $1,160. We took action because the Select Board would not. Our only regret is that negotiations did not happen sooner so that this offer could be more fully understood as the comprehensive goodwill effort that it is.
Kathy Scott, Michael Simonds, and Walter Woodruff are residents of Windham. The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of the Brattleboro Reformer.
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