Grafton's Select Board Race Could Be A Test For Large-Scale Wind Development

Jul 7, 2016

A special vote next week to elect a member of the Grafton Select Board will be a bellwether for how the town feels about co-hosting what would become Vermont's largest wind project.

Spanish energy giant Iberdrola Renewables wants to put up eight, 500-foot wind turbines in Grafton, and another 20 in the town of Windham. The town is expected to vote on the project in November. 

Since the company first introduced the plan about four years ago, the issue has divided both towns.

In Grafton, Select Board Chairman Gus Plummer abruptly resigned at the start of a recent select board meeting after receiving what he called a threatening message that was scrawled on a piece of cardboard.

Plummer's resignation stalled all decision making in Grafton as it left the board split down the middle, with two members left on each side of the wind issue.

Next week, Grafton voters will elect a fifth member of their select board to replace Plummer. And the winner of the election will have the deciding vote on how Grafton proceeds.

Don Dougall, who is facing John Turner, says the vote next week gives the town a chance to move the debate forward.

Don Dougall says Grafton should welcome an industrial wind project.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

"This is a vote to either continue along this bumpy road that we seem to be on without making very much progress at all, or it's a vote for decisive action," he says. "That's what I'm looking for. I want some decisive decision making, which we haven't had for years, it seems."

Dougall supports the wind project.

Over the past few months Grafton's been arguing over whether the town should accept escrow money from Iberdrola for a lawyer, and whether a lawyer should be consulted for negotiations before the wind vote.

"This is a vote to either continue along this bumpy road that we seem to be on without making very much progress at all, or it's a vote for decisive action. That's what I'm looking for." - Don Dougall, Grafton Select Board candidate

The wind vote hasn't even been scheduled yet, and Dougall says he's ready to move all of those issues forward, and open up negotiations with Iberdrola.

But, bringing his small town back together again might be beyond a single select board election.

"Regrettably, I think some of schisms that have appeared here may not be healable," Dougall says. "You may not be able to get it back together again. People have said and done some incredible things to one another, and I'm not sure you can heal that up. It's nice to think that you can bring some sort of moderator in who could make this all sweet again, but I don't think it'll happen, I think it's gone too far already."

Dougall says the land owner has a right to use the property for any project, and he says Vermonters — and Grafton residents — have a responsibility to support renewable energy.

And though Dougall and Turner are on opposite sides of the wind debate, they both say they're running to help the town advance its non-wind related business as well.

Turner says he offers the best way out.

John Turner wants to be elected to the select board, and he says much more investigation needs to be done before a town-wide vote is scheduled on the wind project.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

"The town can't seem to get to decide where are we going to go as a town," Turner says. "I think the individuals know where their hearts are, but the town hasn't been able to come together to say, 'We understand. But where is the town going to go?'"

Turner says he was open to the project at first but decided to fight it after learning about the details.

He says the proposal's way too big for the small towns of Grafton and Windham.

"A multi-national corporation [wants] to come in and put the largest industrial wind facility known to the state of Vermont on the top of our ridge. This project is inappropriate for Grafton." - John Turner, Grafton Select Board candidate

He doesn't trust Iberdrola, and he's worried about the potential of water run-off, knowing that Grafton has faced serious flooding in the past.

"Grafton is a small town that's being faced with a multi-national corporation that wants to come in and put the largest industrial wind facility known to the state of Vermont on the top of our ridge," Turner says. "This project is inappropriate for Grafton."

Turner disagrees with Dougall's assertion that it's important to open negotiations with Iberdrola before a vote.

And at this point, Turner says there has to be more investigation done before a vote for the wind project is even scheduled.

"I disagree with my opponent, I am not rushing to vote, because I don't believe the citizenry in this town has the information they need to make an informed decision," Turner says.

Grafton residents have another few months to learn about wind power  before casting a vote and deciding which direction they want to go.

On Tuesday they'll decide who's going to help them get there.