So, wind developer Iberdrola has come under fire for its cash offer to people in Windham and Grafton, should its proposed Stiles Brook wind farm be built. The individual payments would be in addition to sizeable payments to each town government.
Opponents call it bribery. Attorney General Bill Sorrell’s office said no, it wasn’t against the law. But a few days ago, Secretary of State Jim Condos said he was “greatly concerned” by the offer. As VTDigger’s Mike Faher reported, Condos acknowledged that the offer wasn’t illegal, but it was “pushing the envelope” in using cash to influence voters.
(I’ve been critical of Faher’s wind coverage, but full credit to him for a well-written, balanced piece.)
Sounds dire. But when you read the whole story, it doesn’t seem nearly so clear-cut.
First, Condos didn’t contradict the Attorney General’s legal decision. In fact, he said that he respects the AG’s ruling and “will follow [its] guidance.”
And second, when Iberdrola clarified its offer, Condos walked back his initial statement.
Originally, Iberdrola was offering a payment to each voter. Now, the offer is open to all permanent residents — whether they are voters or not.
Contacted Friday, Condos said he probably wouldn’t have taken a position on money offered only to full-time residents. But he noted that he was reacting to Iberdrola’s original offer to voters, given his office’s election responsibilities.
Condos did say he would seek legislative clarification of the pertinent law, which seems reasonable. Iberdrola’s offer may be legal, but it doesn’t look right. The company would have been wise to find a different way to make this offer.
But i do understand why they did it, thanks to Faher’s reporting. Company spokesman Paul Copleman says the direct payments would lend a measure of equity beyond simple property tax relief.
“While delivering direct benefits to those with more expensive homes or more land, (a property tax cut) does not equitably distribute the project benefits to all permanent residents,” Copleman said. “And that equitable distribution is what local residents have asked us to accomplish.”
That, actually, is a valid goal and a reasonable explanation. Direct cash payments will bring more of the benefit to those who don’t own property.
Direct payments from development of a public resource aren’t unprecedented, either. Every resident of Alaska gets an annual windfall from oil tax revenue.
My conclusion, for what it’s worth: Iberdrola’s offer is within legal bounds, but should have been more thoroughly conceived and better presented.
To be honest, one’s perception of the offer depends in large part on one’s position on Stiles Brook. If you’re against it, then you’ll interpret the offer accordingly.