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In Grafton And Windham, Debate Over Wind Project Heats Up

Howard Weiss-Tisman
Nancy Tips, far right, plays with her grandson, Fred, while her husband Frank Seawright looks on. The ridge where a controversial 28-turbine wind project would be built is in the distance.

The debate over what could be the state's largest commercial wind project is heating up in Windham and Grafton.

The developer has promised substantial payments to the host towns, but those opposed to the project say the communities need to consider other costs.

Supporters are looking for a fair process.

Nancy Tips says she didn't learn too much when Iberdrola Renewables released preliminary maps of  the industrial wind project the company wants to build.

Tips has a home right across from the ridge where the turbines might be erected, and for the past few years she's been trying to imagine what it would be like to look at, and listen to, the turbines every day.

"It makes you unhappy, so incredibly unhappy," Tips says. "To think that the life you were counting on, the life you loved and stuff, can be taken away from you for something you don't believe in."

Iberdrola Renewables wants to build Vermont's largest commercial wind project – 28 turbines towering more than 450 feet each – on a high plateau that straddles the towns of Windham and Grafton.

"It makes you unhappy, so incredibly unhappy, to think that the life you were counting on, the life you loved and stuff, can be taken away from you for something you don't believe in." Nancy Tips, Windham resident

Tips is one of the founders of Friends of Windham, a group that's organized against the project and seeks to promote a "rational discussion" of renewable energy.

But in a rural town like Windham, where people tend to live and let live, Tips says it's taken a while to organize.

"The people in Windham tend to be, first of all, extremely conflict-averse," she says. "And so it's been really hard to even get to the point of admitting that we disagreed."

Iberdrola says it will pay Windham, where most of the turbines would be located, at least $715,000 annually if the project moves ahead. That's more than the town spends for its municipal services.

Credit Courtesy Iberdrola Renewables
This map, supplied by Iberdrola Renewables, shows the proposed locations for the 28 wind turbines but not the homes and businesses located near the project site. Opponents of the development say some homes will be less than one mile from many of the turbines.

Tips admits there's been some tension in town over the wind project.

"For a certain amount of tax relief, they would be willing for others of us to have our lives made unlivable," Tips says. "It gives you a little bit of a conflicted feeling."

Over the ridge in Grafton, the conflict has been much more public, and heated.

Supporters and opponents have each set up a storefront information post, and the debate has been playing out at selectboard and planning commission meetings.

Kent Armstrong supports the project and says opponents are trying to sway Grafton residents using inaccurate information.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Kent Armstrong sits on his porch in Grafton. Armstrong supports a proposed 96-megawatt commercial wind project. "They're beautiful edifices," he says.

"I actually do believe the people of Grafton have got a brain," Armstrong says. "They can think for themselves. They should go sit under a windmill sometime; I've done it. They're wonderful. They're magnificent. They're beautiful edifices."

Armstrong has been a steady presence at selectboard and planning commission meetings and he says he is worried  that a town-wide vote will be either delayed or not held.

"All I really care about is the fact that the Graftonites actually get their say," he says. "Whether they're pro-wind, anti-wind, I don't care. I just want everyone to have their say as the town has requested."

"They [opponents] should go sit under a windmill sometime. I've done it. They're wonderful. " - Kent Armstrong, Grafton resident

Carol Lind, also of Grafton, opposes the wind turbines and she is trying to build support for Grafton Woodlands Group. The organization wants to convince voters that the Iberdrola project is wrong for both towns.

"This is not just our community," Lind says. "This is Windham and Grafton together and this is something that we need to tackle together. And we're trying to get together as two communities, becoming one real community."

Lind says the debate in Grafton has been a little more pointed and heated than what has happened in Windham.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Carol Lind, who opposes a commercial wind project, looks at maps of the proposed project in her kitchen in Grafton. "This is Windham and Grafton together and this is something that we need to tackle together," she says.

"It's divided the community," Lind says. "Because there are people that feel they'll make money off of this. There are people that feel that their taxes will go down. And there are people that feel that we have to do everything that's green, even if it means destroying the ridgeline. And then there's people that are adamantly against it, and there's a lot of stress in the community. And people try not to talk about it with certain people 'cause they know it might upset them, and there's a lot of tension. There's a lot of tension."

Opponents in both towns say they support renewable energy, but say the environmental impact of 28 large turbines would be too great on the forest.

Iberdrola says it will respect a vote on the project, which could happen as early as next year.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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