Residents of the Northeast Kingdom Town of Irasburg voted overwhelmingly Thursday night against a developer’s plan to put two 500-foot wind turbines atop one of its most scenic ridges.
At the packed meeting, 274 voters said ‘no’ to the plan, and only 9 supported it.
The non-binding vote was spurred by plans by David Blittersdorf, founder and CEO of All Earth Renewables, to erect two wind turbines atop Kidder Hill, where he owns a cabin. He has not yet formally made an application to the Public Service Board, which must give approval for such projects.
Local opponents have gathered over 400 signatures –about two thirds of eligible voters--on a petition asking the selectboard to use “all possible means” to oppose such developments on Kidder Hill.
The Irasburg Selectboard invited Blittersdorf to the special meeting to make his case before ballots were cast, but he declined. The first speaker at the meeting was opponent Ron Holland, who choked up as he presented the petition to the selectboard.
“We the people of Irasburg say, ‘no ridge line wind in Irasburg,’” Holland said to applause.
As over 200 attendees cast paper ballots, speakers lined up to voice their objections to what they called industrial wind development.
Paul Drayman, who helped circulate the petition, said people are in favor of renewable energy—but on a smaller scale, with solar panels on homes, and perhaps small wind turbines in yards.
"We need to be able to do this as a community and decide for ourselves where we want these things, what we want it to look like, and we want to be able to use the power that’s generated in our area for us. That’s not what’s going to happen on these big projects,” Drayman said.
No one spoke in favor of Blittersdorf’s proposal, but some worried that even with a decisive vote against it, the town was powerless to block the towers.
“It’s great everyone’s showing up to vote; I don’t know how much say we’re going to have, if any,” said Cathy Royer, who has lived in Irasburg most of her life.
It’s a valid concern because Irasburg has no zoning. Moreover, final decisions about wind projects are made not at the municipal level, but by the state’s Public Service Board.
The state board may take local votes like this into account, but must base its ruling on strict criteria related to environmental and aesthetic impacts. The selectboard says this vote will help it decide whether to invest in a legal fight against the ridge line project, a question to be taken up at its next meeting.
Update 11:15 a.am 10/2/15 : Kidder Hill Community Wind issues the following statement in response to the vote.
Regrettably, the outcome of this vote comes as no surprise. It represents a rush to judgment at odds with basic notions of fairness and fact-driven dialogue. From the start, the Irasburg Selectboard has stacked the deck against informed and thoughtful conversation about this project. First, it held a meeting where it prevented the Irasburg homeowner and project developer from speaking. Then, on just two days notice, it called for this special meeting and “vote” without making any attempt to provide project representatives lead time to prepare a presentation. If the Irasburg selectboard was truly interested in informed discussion, it could have waited until there was a fleshed out proposal to serve as a starting point for conversation.
We all know we need electricity: not just to power our homes, but increasingly to provide petroleum-free transportation and affordable, efficient home heating for Vermonters. Well-developed, locally-owned clean energy projects like the two-turbine community-scale project being contemplated for Kidder Hill can help meet those pressing societal needs while providing substantial tax revenues to the local community.
We look forward to finalizing our proposal and still hope to work with community members in a cooperative fashion to make this a project they can be proud of. Residents and elected leaders in Lowell, Milton, Georgia and other wind-hosting towns, have proven that Vermonters are willing to do their part for a cleaner, more energy-independent future. We hope Irasburg residents will eventually follow their lead.