Grafton board says formal vote on wind project to occur in late 2016, early 2017

By Cynthia Prairie
©2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

On a 3-to-1 vote, the Grafton Select Board agreed on Tuesday night to tell Iberdrola, the Spanish wind company, that it would not be ready to hold a vote of registered voters on the company’s controversial wind project until late 2016 or early 2017.

This formal vote is separate from a poll of not only registered voters in Grafton but also of landowners and second homeowners to gauge their views on the wind proposal.

The letter also seeks assurance that the company will remain committed to following the will of the voters, even if the vote isn’t held in November.

The letter is in response to a June 13 letter from Iberdrola in which its manager for renewables development wrote, “We look forward to working with each community to develop a final proposal in advance of a vote on Nov. 8,” when the presidential election is held.

Iberdrola has said it will adhere to a vote of the registered voters of Grafton and Windham on whether they want the project — eight 500-foot turbines in Grafton and 20 in Windham on property owned by Meadowsend Timberlands. Windham has already agreed to hold its vote on the project on Nov. 8 and has accepted wording for the ballot from Iberdrola, according to the Times-Argus.

But Select Board chair Ron Pilette on Tuesday, in presenting a draft letter to Iberdrola, said that while the town “looks forward to voting on” the project, there are more pressing issues to manage, with completing the updated Grafton Town Plan at the top of the list.

Art Sasse, communications director for Iberdrola (which has changed its name to Avangrid), told The Telegraph that he could not respond to a letter that he has not yet seen.

Pilette and board member John Turner both stressed the importance in approving the Town Plan,  saying that the legislature has now given town plans that have fulfilled state requirements more weight before the Public Service Board, which must approve all renewable energy projects.

“We had requested a draft to the Town Plan for tonight’s meeting and this is the response. I’m disappointed. I’m worried that there is a lot more work to be done and not just on the Energy Chapter.”
Ron Pilette
board chair

However, the Town Plan continues to hit bumps in the road. A draft was expected to be presented to the board on Tuesday night. But in an email Tuesday morning, Planning Commission chair Eric Stevens told Town Administrator Emily Huff and Pilette that “Despite our best efforts on 23 Aug and the time following until now, the Planning Commission is missing drafts on about half of the chapters. Some are nearly complete with the individuals responsible on vacations, some are complete but have not been shared electronically with the Commission, all need work. We will engage again on 13 Sept.”

A visibly perturbed Pilette told the board, “We had requested a draft to the Town Plan for tonight’s meeting and this is the response. I’m disappointed. I’m worried that there is a lot more work to be done and not just on the Energy Chapter.”

But commission member Rex James stood to say, “I think he (Stevens) could have given it to you as a draft. I don’t understand why he wouldn’t give you what he’s got.”

Pilette then asked, “What about the Energy Chapter?”

Commission member Liisa Kissel said that that chapter has been in the works “for the last three years,” having undergone “many versions, lots of discussion and no consensus.” She added that at its Aug. 23 meeting, the Planning Commission received an updated draft, had “some discussion with some disagreements about solar. And Eric said he had a different opinion about the wind section. He said he’d provide a version. But we haven’t seen it.”

Pilette then asked, “Is the Planning Commission at the place to vote and send it to the Select Board?” To which Kissel responded, “Yes.” Pilette then agreed to send a formal request from the Select Board to the Planning Commission to present a draft Town Plan.

In related news, board member Turner, who is leading the effort to conduct the informal wind poll of voters, absentee landowners and second homeowners, said the panel approved the wording of the poll but is still tackling “technical issues.” Those include using the voter checklist and the grand list to glean names and addresses of those to be polled, the number of envelopes needed and how to keep votes private and unduplicated. According to Turner, the town will used the “absentee ballot method” in which the voter will place his ballot in a plain envelope, which he will then place in a self-addressed return envelope that is numbered. Received at town office, the number by the voter’s name will be checked off and numbered envelop will be discarded. Votes from the plain envelopes will then be counted.

The board also agreed to set a date of Wednesday, Oct. 5 for the forum on hydrology.

The chairs of the three wind committees — health, economics and environment — also gave quick updates on the progress of their information gathering, which continues.

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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has 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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