A comprehensive good-will effort

Because we believe that a wind farm at Stiles Brook is inevitable, we sat down with Iberdrola and negotiated benefits for the citizens of Windham. We did so because our Selectboard wouldn’t.

WINDHAM — We 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 Selectboard 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 ridgelines, 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 Ltd., 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.

We believe that sooner or later, like it or not, there will be a wind farm on MTL's land.

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When Iberdrola sought to discuss the project, our Selectboard responded with a simple-but-emphatic “No! Go away!”

For four years, the majority of our Selectboard members used their power to consistently oppose the wind farm and silence proponents. In January of this year, we were among a group formed to address this bias and push for a fairer process.

In April, this process group presented an appeal to the Selectboard signed by 67 residents asking that town representatives talk with Iberdrola to get answers and to ensure the best benefits and protections. The Selectboard did not respond.

In June, a follow-up letter was sent reiterating our appeal. Again, there was no response to residents, but two of the three Selectboard members sent a letter to Iberdrola ordering the company to cease work on the project.

With time running out before a vote on the project by town residents, our process group invited an attorney, Richard Saudek, to speak at a public meeting about using his expertise to negotiate with Iberdrola independently of the Selectboard. With Saudek explaining that doing so was legal, and with many there expressing support, we decided to move forward.

Our group met again and selected the three of us to work with Saudek 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 more than 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 Saudek 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.

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We recommended that Iberdrola decrease the number of turbines 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, and decommissioning. All 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 beyond its addressing global warming.

Originally, Iberdrola proposed paying $715,000 to the town annually, from which municipal taxes could be lowered. The Friends of Windham criticized this offer because it would offer less benefit to 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 proposed annual payments to Windham now total $1 million annually, up nearly 40 percent from Iberdrola's original offer; and every individual, full-time resident of Windham can receive a yearly payment of more than $1,160.

We took action because the Selectboard would not. Our only regret is that negotiations did not happen sooner so that this offer could be more fully understood as the comprehensive good-will effort that it is.

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