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Iberdrola blasts wind turbine foes

With criticism mounting, company issues a detailed defense of its Stiles Brook project

WINDHAM—A turbine developer is defending the embattled Stiles Brook Wind proposal, saying critics have relied on “many inaccuracies” and “false claims.”

Iberdrola Renewables, which wants to build 28 turbines on a ridge in the towns of Windham and Grafton, issued a July 8 letter in which the company rebuts concerns about the project’s wildlife, water quality, flooding, and health impacts.

The latter topic has spurred emotional debate often focused on low-frequency sound emitted by turbines. But, in the letter addressed to Windham officials, Iberdrola argues that there’s no credible evidence that the Stiles Brook project will cause injury to its neighbors.

“The peer-reviewed scientific evidence overwhelmingly finds that properly sited wind turbines do not harm human health,” wrote Jenny Briot, renewables development manager for Iberdrola. “The fact is that hundreds of thousands of people around the world live near and work in close proximity to operating wind turbines without ill health effects.”

Iberdrola also is again calling for negotiations with town officials.

“We would hope that, from this point forward, we can have a conversation based on sound science, and we can agree to a mutually beneficial arrangement,” Briot wrote.

Briot was responding to a June letter signed by two of the three Windham Selectboard members and the town’s Planning Commission chairman. That letter raised a number of environmental and health concerns about the Stiles Brook plan and asked Iberdrola to “suspend your involvement with this project immediately.”

Windham officials aren’t alone in raising such concerns — citizen groups opposing the project have sprung up in both towns. The extent of that sentiment likely will become clearer over the next several months, as Iberdrola has pledged to abide by the results of townwide votes on the Stiles Brook project later this year.

In the meantime, the developer isn’t staying silent. Iberdrola’s July 8 letter addresses Windham’s concerns point by point:

• Windham had written that Stiles Brook development is at odds with regional and statewide flood-management practices.

Briot responded by citing the state’s standards for maintaining water quality and controlling erosion and flooding. The state Public Service Board must approve Iberdrola’s Stiles Brook development plans before the project can proceed.

“Once the Stiles Brook project is built, the highly technical and engineered stormwater system will help ensure that the towns of Grafton and Windham as well as surrounding communities are well-protected against the increased risk of floods due to climate change,” Briot wrote.

• On a similar note, Windham officials had written that they were “particularly concerned” that stormwater-control measures at the Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain weren’t being properly monitored.

Briot labeled that “patently false.” On the contrary, she wrote, the Lowell system “works well and is ensuring that water quality is very high.”

Windham’s argument on this point also elicited a response from Trey Martin, state Agency of Natural Resources deputy secretary. In a July 8 email to the town, Martin wrote that Kingdom Community Wind is in compliance with its state stormwater permit and, “to date, it appears as though the stormwater system ... is performing at a high level.”

• Windham officials had characterized Stiles Brook as “one of the largest unfragmented [wildlife] habitat blocks remaining in southern Vermont.”

In her response, Briot noted that “one of Vermont’s largest power lines” already cuts through the Stiles Brook Forest.

“Even as this existing infrastructure fragments this forest, it is worth noting by your own admission that the wildlife in the area continues to thrive,” she wrote. “This is also true at existing wind project locations in Vermont where large mammals are spotted regularly and often hunted on the project property.”

• On what has been the most contentious aspect of the Stiles Brook debate — health concerns — Windham officials had declared that “we are unwilling to subject any of our town’s property owners to the unknown short- and long-term effects of exposure to turbine noise, vibration, infrasound, and shadow flicker.”

Briot responded that “credible, peer-reviewed scientific data and various government reports in the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom — now totaling more than 20 — refute the claim that wind farms cause negative health impacts.”

“There are Iberdrola Renewables employees living within a quarter mile of turbines at several projects nationwide,” she wrote.

• Windham officials had blasted Iberdrola’s “lack of truthfulness about the problems your company has experienced with turbine neighbors.” Specifically, town officials say they’re watching a lawsuit filed by some who live near Iberdrola’s Hardscrabble Wind Power Project in New York.

Briot — while acknowledging that “we live in a litigious society where lawsuits can proliferate” — said Iberdrola is “very proud of the fact that we have great relationships with thousands of landowner partners at the nearly 60 renewable energy projects across the United States.”

“We would encourage you to talk with the multitude of landowners and neighbors nationwide who welcome our presence in their communities and on their land,” Briot wrote.

One final point of contention underscores the bad blood between Iberdrola and Windham officials. Briot claims the Selectboard didn’t properly warn the letter before voting to send it, and she wrote that “the lack of due process ... is alarming.”

Windham’s letter, though, was a response to an earlier communication from Briot. And Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright produced a June 20 agenda listing “letter from Iberdrola” as a matter to be acted on under the “new business” section of the meeting.

That agenda “was posted in the usual three places at least 72 hours before the meeting,” Seawright said.

Seawright said he will withhold further comment on Iberdrola’s latest Stiles Brook arguments until the Selectboard meets again.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #365 (Wednesday, July 13, 2016). This story appeared on page A1.

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