Spanish Wind Developer’s Attempt to Bribe Vermont Voters Generates Local Outrage

directbribesmall-e1477672790559

A few posts back we covered the story of how a Spanish wind power outfit is attempting to bribe its way into Vermonter’s hearts and minds, with fat piles of the cash it filches from taxpayers as subsidies.

STT clearly underestimated the locals’ sense of outrage: here are another couple of pieces on the efforts of Iberdrola to purchase its social licence, in a State where the wind industry is public enemy number 1.

Vermont Secretary of State Questions Iberdrola Payments to Voters
VT Digger
Mike Faher
28 October 2016

Windham – Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos says he’s “greatly concerned” about a turbine developer’s monetary offer to registered voters in Windham and Grafton.

Though the Vermont Attorney General’s office has said Iberdrola Renewables’ proposed “direct partnership payments” don’t violate election law, Condos asserts that the developer is “pushing the envelope in an attempt to influence the vote.”

Voters in both towns are scheduled to weigh in on Iberdrola’s controversial Stiles Brook Wind Project on Nov. 8. The developer has promised that, if the project is built, each Windham resident could get a minimum of $1,162 annually, and each Grafton resident would receive at least $428 annually.

“This is a road we, as Vermonters, do not want to go down – where those with the most money can buy the result they want,” Condos wrote in an email sent Thursday to Windham’s Selectboard chairman. “This is not education or advocacy or free speech. It is a payment to voters.”

Iberdrola spokesman Paul Copleman on Friday said the company has clarified its financial offer to encompass “all permanent residents, not just registered voters.”

He also argued that while tax revenues from the Stiles Brook development are expected to result in lower tax rates for residents, the partnership payments are another, more equitable way of distributing the wind project’s financial benefits.

“While delivering direct benefits to those with more expensive homes or more land, (a property tax cut) does not equitably distribute the project benefits to all permanent residents,” Copleman said. “And that equitable distribution is what local residents have asked us to accomplish.”

Iberdrola is proposing to build 24 turbines amid the 5,000 acre Stiles Brook Forest, owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Ltd. It would be Vermont’s largest wind power site, capable of generating 82.8 megawatts of renewable energy.

Stiles Brook has spurred protest among those who are concerned about possible negative impacts on property values, aesthetics, the environment and human health. Two opposition organizations – Friends of Windham and Grafton Woodlands Group – have formed, and a majority of the two towns’ Selectboards currently are comprised of critics of the project.

Both Iberdrola and Meadowsend have touted the project’s environmental and economic benefits. The developer has accused opponents of spreading false information.

Though not legally obligated to receive approval from the towns, Iberdrola has said it will abide by the results of the Nov. 8 vote.

About a month before that balloting, the company modified its Stiles Brook proposal, downsizing from 28 to 24 turbines and raising the annual financial benefits package for the towns from $1 million to $1.5 million.

The financial package includes “partnership payments” totaling $565,000 annually to residents of Windham and Grafton. In handouts distributed at public meetings earlier this month, Iberdrola described these as “direct partnership payments to registered voters to offset their own expenses, such as education taxes and energy bills.”

Iberdrola has said such benefits are common at its energy projects. But Stiles Brook opponents cried foul, equating the partnership payments to a bribe.

The Vermont Attorney General’s office reviewed the issue and decided that the payment offer did not violate state election law. A key reason, Senior Assistant Attorney General Michael Duane said, was that the payments would be available to all voters regardless of their stance on the wind project – and regardless of whether they had voted on the matter at all.

Condos – whose office oversees elections – said he and his staff “respect and appreciate the (attorney general’s) position and will follow their guidance.” In responding to a query from Windham Selectboard Chairman Frank Seawright, Condos also makes clear that he supports renewable energy and has “no position on this particular project.”

What rankles Condos, however, is that Iberdrola’s initial handouts targeted registered voters for partnership payments if the Stiles Brook project goes through.

“Regardless of whether the partnership payments are deemed legal, I remain greatly concerned about where this may lead if we start down this road,” Condos wrote. “In a democracy, a ballot item should pass or fail on its own merits and not because of cash incentives.”

He worries that payment offers “could conceivably invite a bidding war between competing ‘partnerships’ on every controversial ballot item.”

“There is what’s legal and there is what’s right, and those are not always the same thing,” Condos wrote.

Iberdrola has tweaked the wording of its offer. Copleman sent VTDigger.org examples of recent fliers that say partnership payments would be available to “each full-time adult resident” and “every full-time (Windham and Grafton) resident” – though the latter document still calculates individual payments “based on the number of registered voters in each respective town.”

Copleman also said the company used the term “permanent adult residents” at public meetings in Windham and Grafton earlier this month – in contrast to the literature handed out those nights.

“The intent from the beginning was to include all permanent adult residents in the partnership program,” Copleman said.

Contacted Friday, Condos said he probably wouldn’t have taken a position on money offered only to full-time residents. But he noted that he was reacting to Iberdrola’s original offer to voters, given his office’s election responsibilities.

He also pledged to ask the Legislature during the upcoming session to clarify the “undue influence” provision of state election law because of the Stiles Brook controversy. “Words matter,” Condos said. “When we’re looking at it from a legal standpoint, what is the state’s definition of ‘undue influence’?”

State Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia/Orange, also is calling for legislative action. He thinks more legal clarity is necessary on the concept of undue influence, and he’s also in favor of boosting penalties for violating the law.

Currently, those who are found guilty of “offenses against the purity of elections” face a maximum $200 fine.

Benning is a vocal critic of wind turbines. But he said his push for tweaking the election law “really doesn’t have anything to do, in my eyes, with wind towers. This has everything to do with the purity and integrity of Vermont’s electoral process.”

Rep. Carolyn Partridge, D-Windham, also says legislative action is needed in regards to election law, though she’s not sure of the mechanics of it. “It’s not my area of expertise, but I just think it makes sense to clarify it,” said Partridge, who chairs the House Agriculture and Forest Products Committee.

Partridge, who represents both of the towns that may host Stiles Brook turbines, said she is opposed to the project due to concerns about environmental and health impacts and the turbines’ proximity to homes.

“I was willing to take a look at it, but the more I learned … the more really grave concerns I had,” Partridge said.
VTDigger 

no-wind-turbines-vermont

Vermont secretary of state blasts wind developer’s proposed payments to voters
Vermont Watchdog
Bruce Parker abd Michael Bielawski
28 October 2016

Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos said Thursday that Iberdrola’s financial incentive to registered voters is “pushing the envelope in an attempt to influence the vote” on a 24-turbine wind project proposed for Windham and Grafton.

This month, Spanish renewable energy firm Iberdrola offered a community benefits package to Windham and Grafton voters to entice them to allow a giant wind farm in the Stiles Brook Forest area.

The company promised to give $1,162 for every voter in Windham and $427 to Grafton voters. Opponents of the project responded by accusing the developer of vote buying.

While Condos stopped short of calling the money a bribe or undue influence, he said the money could influence how people will vote on Nov. 8.

“It is particularly disturbing that this cash incentive is being offered to ‘registered voters’ only, creating, in my view, a direct line between the money and the vote,” Condos wrote in a letter to Windham Selectboard Chair Frank Seawright.

Seawright contacted Condos Thursday morning to complain of “the tactic being used here in our town to influence a positive vote,” and he urged the Secretary of State’s office to get involved.

“Agents of the lobbying firm KSE are in the area working very hard to undermine the town vote and government. Anything that your office can do may be useful here,” Seawright told Condos.

In reply, Condos said his office would ask the Legislature to clarify the “undue influence” provision of election law found at 17 V.S.A. §2017, so partnership programs like Iberdrola’s would have clear guidelines to follow.

“Regardless of whether the partnership payments are deemed legal, I remain greatly concerned about where this may lead if we start down this road,” Condos wrote. “In a democracy, a ballot item should pass or fail on its own merits and not because of cash incentives.”

He added: “This is not education or advocacy or free speech. It is a payment to voters. This could conceivably invite a bidding war between competing ‘partnerships’ on every controversial ballot item.”

Iberdrola officials have since responded by saying the individual payments are for all permanent residents, not only registered voters, and that Seawright and Condos are misinformed — a claim Seawright disputes.

On Friday, Seawright sent Watchdog a photo of an Iberdrola poster that states, “Through this program, registered voters who choose to opt in will receive an annual payment from the project.” The Iberdrola poster adds that the fund will be dispersed evenly, “making the yearly payment a minimum of $1,162 per registered voter based on the current number of registered voters.”

The poster is corroborated by media coverage of Iberdrola’s announcement, including an Oct. 5 article by VTDigger’s Mike Faher that reported the money is designated for voters.

Condos has not yet released an updated statement on the issue, and Iberdrola did not return numerous requests for clarification.

“(Money for voters) was clearly their initial intention,” Seawright told Watchdog Friday. “And now they’ve apparently realized that the law is a little bit such that they are more likely to get away with it if they say ‘any and all residents.’”

Seawright said he doubts giving money to all residents would change anything.

“It’s going to come back to the voter checklist I think. How else are they going to verify it anyway?” he said.

“I think the point that people should know is that this is not money that actually benefits the town of Windham. It does not come into the Windham town treasury. Folks do not get to vote on how that money is distributed. It is entirely an agreement between Iberdrola and the individual residents.”

Seawright added that if the project is approved he will encourage recipients of the funds to give the money to families adversely affected by the power plant.

“The state of Vermont has abandoned towns, they give us no guidance, no advice,” he said. “The only thing they do is to say, ‘Well, you have to do the best you can.’”
Vermont Watchdog

wind_powerprotest

Bribes won’t work with this lot…

About stopthesethings

We are a group of citizens concerned about the rapid spread of industrial wind power generation installations across Australia.

Comments

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  2. Same old, same old wind weasel bribes… But this time more brazen than usual.

  3. Jackie Rovensky says:

    It doesn’t matter how it is worded it is a bribe, a payment for a favorable vote.
    If they can spend money so easily then why do they need financial assistance from Governments to build the projects.
    Of course they will have factored in that after a while they will have less money to pay out as those who can leave leave, especially as they become ill from the noise.
    This direct payment has been offered in other ways here in Australia, and is becoming more open. At first it was that they would give Local Authorities money to spend on their communities – of course hidden in the wording was that they would have a say in what projects it would be spent on and they would have to be acknowledged as the ‘Good Samaritans’, offering a helping hand.
    The constant cry here in Australia and no doubt elsewhere that opposition is caused because some do not get direct a financial payment helps the companies push the ‘deal’, but this direct payment for a favorable vote surly cannot be truly accepted as legal or even ethical.

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