There’s a lot of funny business afoot near the sites of proposed wind farms in Windham/Grafton and Swanton. And it’s not a product of those wily Spaniards at Iberdrola; no, it’s coming from local opponents of wind.
Which is par for the course. While the opposition is quick to cry “dirty pool” by would-be developers, they themselves are doing their best impression of the Iron Sheik, the great wrestling villain who did anything he could — up to and including blasts of “fire” — to assert his cartoonish dominance over his foes.
(He’s an entertaining Twitter follow if you can handle his frequent use of the F-word.)
Let’s take a look at a few of the Foreign Objects hidden in their trunks, shall we?
We’ll start in Windham, where non-residents are agitating for the chance to vote on the project. To which my immediate response was, “What The [Iron Sheik’s Favorite Word]?”
Whatever happened to “one person, one vote”?
Is this nonresident participation a principle to be applied broadly — if I own ten pieces of property, I get a vote for every parcel? Hey, if money can be speech, maybe property should be speech as well!
And how about college students? Should they be able to vote in their hometowns AND in their college communities?
No, it’s ridiculous, it doesn’t work that way and it never should.
Unless you’re an opponent of the project and you want to goose the “No” vote. Anti-wind activist Nancy Tips has the nerve to cite “democratic principle” in calling for nonresidents to get a vote. And to her, it’s “strange and cruel” for Iberdrola to apply a fundamental democratic principle to the vote.
Tips also calls the vote a “referendum scheme”, which is a damn curious way to describe the company’s voluntary decision to hold a town-wide referendum and abide by the results. If that’s not an homage to democracy, I don’t know what is.
Allowing nonresidents to vote in a binding election is illegal, of course; but this vote is nonbinding. Even so, the principle should be honored. People rich enough to own multiple properties should not get a vote for each parcel.
Meanwhile, over in Grafton, the antis are pursuing a different way of thumbing the scale. Selectboard chair Ron Pilette says the town won’t be able to hold its vote on Election Day, as Iberdrola prefers. It’s just too darn soon, he claims. He’s talking about a vote “later in the year or early next year.”
And we all know how this goes. You want maximum participation, you coordinate the vote with Election Day. You want low turnout, thus maximizing the heft of the anti-wind dead-enders, you make it a one-off special election.
And his timeframe makes that even more obvious. Later this year or early next? I know — how about Christmas Eve? Or New Year’s Day?
Pilette’s rationale is that a new town plan is in the works, and he doesn’t want to have the vote until the plan is finished. But that doesn’t hold water. The issue would be yes or no on the wind farm. The town plan is irrelevant.
Pilette, by the way, is an opponent of the project. He succeeded the previous chair, Gus Plummer, who resigned after receiving a threatening note. When Pilette assumed the office, he spoke of the need for “civility” in the wind farm debate.
It’s hard to see his timing shenanigans as living up to his own standard.
And now let’s take a trip up north to the town of Swanton, where the anti-wind majority on the Planning Commission has been accused of multiple Open Meetings Law violations for discussing revisions to the town plan by email without public warning. It’s a pretty clear-cut case.
At issue is a seven-turbine wind farm proposed, not by some scary foreign conglomerate, but by Franklin County native Travis Belisle, the owner of the “Sticks & Stuff” home supply stores.
In one of the suspect emails, town commissioner Sarah Luneau-Swan urged her colleagues to have “a unified [town plan] for review” before the next meeting, in part because “there is concern that Travis and his team will be there and we don’t want to have to make changes or concede to any of their requests.”
Now, there’s democracy in action. The town commissioners deliberating in private, and one of them openly discussing how to shut out an actual taxpaying town resident out of the process.
In addition to those specifics, I have heard second-hand accounts from Swanton and elsewhere of stacked agendas, public bodies refusing to allow wind proponents to speak, and said proponents being shouted down and verbally threatened during public meetings.
I can already hear the protestations from the anti-wind crowd: “The developers don’t play fair, so we have to fight back any way we can.” Well, no, actually, the developers do play by the rules. They are, in fact, highly scrupulous about the process. You may not like the process, and there’s where we get the conspiracy theories, the dark mutterings about regulators in the pocket of developers, of big payoffs to politicians, and sellouts in the environmental community.
And that’s all they’ve got: dark mutterings. No proof. No smoking guns. In fact, the process was carefully crafted over a period of many years. It was designed to allow for public input, but also to promulgate renewable energy, which is a legitimately arrived-at policy goal of your State of Vermont. No secret deals, no mass bribery, no free timeshares at a beach condo on Formentera.
But I digress.
Meanwhile, Belisle has just applied to the Public Service Board for the necessary Certificate of Public Good. The filing is impressive; it addresses every potential criticism of the project and makes a strong case for the plan’s benefits. Let’s look at a few, shall we?
— The site is a working landscape already, home to the Belisles’ maple sugaring operation. It’s already served by an existing access road network, so no road-building through wildlife habitat.
— The project is designed to avoid any existing wetlands and limit any runoff concerns: “it is “designed to meet all applicable state stormwater management standards.”
— Wildlife studies found no rare, threatened, or endangered species. A Deer Wintering Area was found on the outskirts of the project area; Belisle is working with Vermont Fish & Wildlife on a mitigation plan.
— Sound studies showed that the turbines will operate “well within the… sound limits recently adopted by the Public Service Board.” The developers have committed to operating the turbines within the PSB’s interior sound limits as well.
— Remarkably, the Belisles are offering a “post-construction buy-out option for neighbors living within 3,000 feet of a wind turbine.” They are confident that they will be able to “re-sell quickly” any property they buy back. They’ve put their own money on the line, betting against the idea that wind farms destroy property value.
— The wind farm would underwrite a big chunk of the town budget. The Belisles say they will contribute roughly $150,000 per year to the town annually, enough to pay for all of the town’s police or library budget, or virtually all if its firefighting costs.
All of which won’t quiet the critics, who continue to brandish their unfounded claims of environmental harm, loss of property value, noise impacts, and the truly ridiculous “shadow flicker syndrome,” which posits that a quick shuttling of light and shadow causes ominous but unquantifiable health effects.
Which might possibly be true except for one inconvenient fact. The sun doesn’t stay in one place all day, so the most that anyone might experience “shadow flicker” would be a few minutes per day. To which I say, close your drapes until the shadows pass.
If you compare the Belisles’ performance with that of the town planning commission, it’s pretty clear which entity is abiding by democratic practices. The Belisles are working within the system; town officials have tried to subvert the open process.
Which is par for the course for the Iron Sheiks of the anti-wind brigade.