Friday, October 14, 2016

Vermont asst. attorney general says cash payments to get residents to vote for wind farm were legal

Area proposed for the wind farm. (Map by
Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd., which owns the land)
Developers have found a legal way to pay Vermont residents to cast votes on Nov. 8 in favor of approving the state's largest wind project, Katharine Seelye reports for The New York Times. "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."

Concerned that the results of the gubernatorial election could dampen future wind projects in the state, Spanish energy developer Iberdrola Renewables offered to dole out cash to residents of Windham and Grafton to get their votes, Seelye writes. Iberdrola offered to give Windham $1 million a year for 25 years and that "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. In Grafton, the company set aside $215,000 for voter payments. The town’s 504 registered voters would each receive $427 a year, or $10,665 over 25 years."

"Many residents called the offer an attempt at undue influence, if not an outright bribe" and opponents of the project accused the company of buying votes, Seelye writes. "But Michael O. Duane, senior assistant attorney general, said the payments did not violate state law." He said "the proposal 'doesn’t say that the funds go only to those people who signed a sworn statement that they had voted for it.'"

When asked if the company was trying to buy votes, Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman said the company "was merely responding to what residents had said they would need to win approval, and that the developer would abide by the result," Seelye writes. In fact, the cash idea came from residents, not the company, said Kathy Scott, a Windham resident who helped negotiate the package.

Scott "said her group saw them as a way to 'level the playing field' with second-home owners, many of whose homes have high assessments and who would benefit more from the tax cuts. (Although second-home owners pay 60 percent of the town’s taxes, they cannot vote here, a sore point for them.)," Seelye writes.

Critics of the project fear it will have negative environmental effects, and that "turbines, roadways and infrastructure are destroying habitats, increasing flood risks and scarring the landscape much the way mountaintop mining has scarred West Virginia," Seelye writes. "They also complain about noise, lower property values and blighted views."

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