Candidates for lt. gov., governor talk industrial wind power, citizen input at Grafton forum

From left, Randy Brock, Peter Galbraith, Phil Scott, Becca , Dick McCormack, Carolyn Partridge,

From left, Randy Brock, Peter Galbraith, Phil Scott, and, seeking re-election to their seats are incumbent Sens. Becca Balint and Dick McCormack and incumbents Reps. Carolyn Partridge, Matt Trieber and Jeanette White.

Mike McLaine moderates the program. All photos by Shawn Cunningham.

Mike McLaine moderates the program. All photos by Shawn Cunningham.

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The small crowd gathered before even one candidate entered Grafton’s White Church on Monday night got the biggest treat of the day, when young Ripley Schemm practiced a solo soprano performance with one of the world’s most famous arias. Accompanied by his father on piano, Ripley, who is from the Netherlands and is visiting grandparents in Grafton, clearly sang Puccini’s O mio babbino caro, hitting all the high notes effortlessly, and leaving the audience yearning for more.

And then the candidates forum began.

Accepting the invitation were three statewide candidates – one for lieutenant governor (of five candidates) and two for governor — of the eight running, although one sent a surrogate. There were four local candidates, including one who doesn’t represent either Windham or Grafton. That is of note because the forum, which centered on energy issues, was sponsored by Grafton Woodlands Group and the Friends of Windham, organizations that are opposing the proposed Iberdrola Renewables project that would place 20 500-foot wind turbines in Windham and eight in Grafton.

About 60 people attended the forum led by Windham Town Moderator Mike McLaine, who read questions from the audience. Answers were kept short, thanks to GWG’s Wendy Knoble, who acted as timekeeper.

David Kelley spoke for Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman.

David Kelley speaks on behalf of Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman.

By the end of the two-hour forum, the boogie man had not been Iberdrola as much as the administration of Gov. Peter Shumlin, which is mandating a 90 percent renewable energy goal by 2050, and the Public Service Board, which must give a Certificate of Public Good before any such project can begin. Both are seen as ignoring community wishes when it comes to industrial renewable energy projects, both solar and wind turbine.

David Kelley represented Bruce Lisman, the Republican gubernatorial candidate who was with Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc. until it collapsed in 2008. Kelley was only allowed to give an opening and a closing statement.

In addressing what is wrong with the state’s energy policy, he quipped, “It’s like a mosquito in a nudist colony. Where to begin?” He then ticked off a list of perceived problems including: renewable energy credits that allow businesses to keep polluting. “No ski areas could get away with what has been done to Lowell Mountain,” he added, referring to the industrial wind project there; The current policy works but only for developers, the governor’s office and Public Service Board; and the state is building an energy supply that is a great distance from where the demand is.

He added that the state needed to stop “high elevation ridge line development.”

Former Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith, who was twice elected to the Vermont Senate, said, “I’m your neighbor. (He lives in Townsend) You are in the prettiest part of Vermont.” He said he wanted to “make sure that this … isn’t spoiled by industrial wind turbines. As governor, I will do everything in my power to ensure there will be no new industrial wind turbines on our ridge lines. … if you are putting up industrial wind turbines you are damaging the environment by building large roads, blasting mountain tops … This energy isn’t green.”

Randy Brock speaks as Peter Galbraith chuckles.

Randy Brock speaks as Peter Galbraith chuckles.

Phil Scott, current lieutenant governor and small business owner who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said he has served five terms as state senator and three as lieutenant governor, all as a Republican, “always in the minority.” As such, he said he had to get “along, facilitate, hold conversations. Going from being a politician to being a public servant these you can trust. Listen, learn, lead.”

Former state auditor Randy Brock, who is running for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, indicated to the audience that he may not be backing Donald Trump for president by saying, “I’m not here to make Vermont great again.” He called the job of lieutenant governor “unique.” While he would be presiding over the Senate, the job “is also a blank page that enables” him to focus on a few issues, “such as crisis of affordability that makes it difficult to attract people into the state.”

The question that kicked off the two-hour event was what candidates would have done differently than the current state government when it comes to renewable energy.

Brock said, “We take from the poor and middle class and give to the wealthy and developers. All renewable energy credits should (instead) be called permits to pollute.”

Galbraith was definitive in his answers, saying he would “not permit destruction of Vermont ridge lines. Solar development projects need to be in compliance with Act 250.” He added that he would ban corporate campaign contributions.

Phil Scott

Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is running for the Republican nomination for governor.

Scott was more circumspect, saying that he would let the “Public Service Board do its job without interference from me,” but that he would not be influenced by energy developers and would encourage public input.

All three candidates agreed that the state needed to weigh the concerns of the affected public more heavily than they had been in the past, with Galbraith saying that he had at one time offered a bill to make community consent mandatory before such projects could go through. And Brock suggested changing the PSB appointment process and reinvigorating that panel to “so it represents the public.”

While saying that he would “take the politics out of it,” Scott reiterated that he would let the PSB just do its job. Brock said that the PSB seems to be hearing only from industry representatives and believes that rules governing the functioning of the PSB need to be clarified. “The PSB should have a role in protecting the public,” Brock added.

In closing, Galbraith contended that he was the only Democratic candidate (Sue Minter and Matt Dunne are also running) who is against ridge line development. “It speaks for itself,” he said, “that I am the only Democratic candidate for governor who came here.” He added that if he wins the Democratic primary on Aug. 9 “it will be game-over for industrial wind in Vermont.”

Scott, who is running against Bruce Lisman in the Republican primary, told the crowd that the election is “all about the economy, growing it and creating and keeping jobs in-state. There’s been a lack of action in this field. He added “I’m the only candidate truly in touch with the people,” which could be taken as a swipe at Lisman,  a multi-millionaire who has spent nearly $2 million on his primary campaign.

Spokesman David Kelley said Lisman “speaks clearly on energy policy. Clearly, Montpelier has ignored the people, water quality, wildlife habitat, property values and aesthetics.” It was the “politicians,” he added, who “let the industry rule the process and ignored the people.”

Brock, who will be running against the winner of a packed Democratic Primary for lieutenant governor (Kesha Ram, Shap Smith and David Zuckerman),told the audience that “I’ve never been to a forum that says ‘we really want more industrial wind.’ That,” he added, “tells us something. I have seen grown men in tears over the damage industrial wind had done to their families, their land, their health.”

The forum ended at 8:30 p.m. at which time all were invited to the church basement for refreshments and continued chat with the candidates.

The Vermont primary will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 9.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor for 30 years, having worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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