From the Times:
Vermont Wind Project Needs Support, So Company Offers to Pay Voters
By Katharine Q. Seelye Oct. 12 2016
WINDHAM, Vt. — To many residents in this tiny town in southern Vermont, the last-minute offer of cash was a blatant attempt to buy their votes.
To the developer that offered the money, it was simply a sign of how attentively the company had been listening to voters’ concerns.
The company, Iberdrola Renewables, a Spanish energy developer, wants to build Vermont’s largest wind project on a private forest tract that spans Windham and the adjacent town of Grafton. The project would consist of 24 turbines, each nearly 500 feet tall, and generate 82.8 megawatts of power, enough to light 42,000 homes for a year if the wind kept blowing, though the houses could be in Connecticut or Massachusetts.
Residents of the two towns will vote Nov. 8 on whether to approve the project, which has pitted neighbor against neighbor. No one knows which way the vote will go.
So Wind and Graft have come together in Vermont. And I guess we do need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows on the upcoming vote.
The story is fine in an "all politics is local" sort of way. Left unmentioned - Vermont's ski industry, and hence the state, has a dire interest in climate change.
The dumbest comment presented comes from the anti-wind people. Since this is the Times, we don't whether they antis also have more cogent arguments, nor do we hear the silliest pro-arguments. With that caveat, roll the tape:
Critics of commercial wind power consider themselves every bit as environmentally conscious as the governor. They say he is doing more harm than good by promoting developments on the state’s ridgelines, among Vermont’s most important assets, where turbines, roadways and infrastructure are destroying habitats, increasing flood risks and scarring the landscape much the way mountaintop mining has scarred West Virginia. They also complain about noise, lower property values and blighted views.
All of this development, they say, is doing little to stave off climate change.
“These handful of turbines won’t do anything to offset the documented scampering increase in the mining and use of coal in India and China,” said Frank Seawright, the chairman of the Windham Selectboard and an opponent of the project.
Well, yeah, but that could be said of almost any individual project short of a beta test of a cold-fusion reactor.
Since you are no doubt wondering about the structure and legality of the cash offer:
Facing the possibility that voters here may reject the proposal, putting a damper on large-scale wind development in Vermont, Iberdrola last week put cash on the table for individual voters.
Many residents called the offer an attempt at undue influence, if not an outright bribe. But after a review, the state attorney general’s office said that the offer did not appear to violate state law.
Still, the individual payments — a total of $565,000 a year to 815 registered voters in both towns, or $14.1 million over 25 years — on top of millions more to the towns, suggest how much is at stake for the company. Iberdrola has been trying to persuade voters here for more than four years to approve the project, in a state that is actively seeking clean-energy development.
At the meeting, which drew more than 100 residents, the developer shared its new plan. It reduced the number of turbines to 24 from 28 and increased the money paid to Windham to $1 million from $715,000 a year for the 25 years. The payments would cut property taxes in half and provide $150,000 a year for charities, fire departments and educational scholarships.
The company said it would also set aside $350,000 each year for direct payments to Windham’s 311 registered voters — $1,125 apiece annually, or $28,135 over 25 years, which a voter could accept or not.
Now, if you are thinking that the payments are legal because they are contingent on the outcome of the vote and not the specific vote of any one prospective recipient, pat yourself on the back:
Opponents were outraged at the payments, perceiving them as an attempt to buy votes, and complained to state officials.
But Michael O. Duane, senior assistant attorney general, said the payments did not violate state law. The proposal “doesn’t say that the funds go only to those people who signed a sworn statement that they had voted for it,” he said.
Now, you might be thinking that some form of compensation to the locals is appropriate. After all, the annoyance of construction, noise and impaired views will be local although the power benefits will be regional (or global!).
On the other hand, you might be thinking that the reduction in property taxes is the appropriate form of compensation. On the third hand, the article tells us that 60% of property taxes (and hence, the tax relief) goes to second-home owners in the two towns, who aren't worth bribing because they don't vote locally.
And finally (finally!) if a "local" signs up for the twenty-five year annuity and then retires to Florida in two years, why the ongoing compensation? Hmm, maybe it reflects impairment of home resale value?
Well. I'm sure there are Deep Themes here about NIMBY and people's distrust of the system and a whole "Where's Mine" attitude in the populace, different facets of which are ably personified by both our Presidential candidates. But Wind and Graft captures it.