The voters in Windham and Grafton said a loud “no” on Tuesday to the 24-turbine Stiles Brook wind energy project. Spanish renewable energy developer Iberdrola says it will honor the votes.
Grafton voted 235-158 against the project; Windham voted 181-101 against.
“I think having a big foreign corporation coming into this small town, it’s definitely this perfect David versus Goliath story, and in this case David won,” said Lynn Barrett, director of the Grafton Woodlands Group.
Maureen Bell of the Windham Selectboard echoed that sentiment.
“We’re thrilled with the results of the election for the two towns,” she said. “And also with Iberdrola’s statement that they are leaving.”
Windham Selectboard member Frank Seawright said he’s not surprised by the result
“You knew the vote was coming,” he said. “And we had nearly a 100 percent voter turn-out in Windham. I think we had 314 people on the checklist and probably about 280 come out. … It was close to a two-to-one opposition.”
Iberdrola and Stiles Brook Forest property owner Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. sent out at least three postcards to residents in the final week before the vote touting the project’s economic benefits, respect for the environment, and efforts to fight climate change. The Vermont Public Interest Group also sent cards to voters down the stretch in favor of the project.
Particularly controversial was a plan to give a financial benefits package not just to the towns but directly to registered voters. The amounts were $350,000 total to Windham and $215,000 total to Grafton. The move was criticized by Secretary of State Jim Condos as borderline unethical.
In the end, it wasn’t enough.
Iberdrola spokesperson Paul Copleman said in a prepared statement that the company will walk “cease development of the Stiles Brook Wind Project unless the communities reconsider their decision.”
Barrett thinks that is unlikely.
“We got the vote and we were like, ‘are they really going to walk away?’” said Barrett. “Hopefully they will not [go back on their pledge], and because there was such a big voter turnout, there is no way they could say that we didn’t get 50 percent of the vote.”
Seawright said he hopes the town can come together after the divisive campaign.
“I think that’s going to take a while,” he said. “I’ve begun sort of expunging the word community from my vocabulary because I think it’s been overused and in a sort of sappy, non-substantive way. I have begun to insert in its place the word tribe because it has richer meanings and one of them is people who have a strong relationship to a particular place, which we do here.”
CORRECTION: Maureen Bell is a member of the Windham Selectboard. The original version of this story incorrectly listed her as a member of the Grafton Selectboard. The story also said Secretary Jim Condos considered payments to full-time residents as borderline unethical. Instead, Condos considers payments to registered voters as borderline unethical.