Vermont is one of America’s key battlegrounds in the fight to preserve peace and prosperity in the USA.
Donald Trump comfortably rode to presidential victory, thanks to a “basket of deplorables”.
In Vermont, Republican Phil Scott strode into the Governor’s office thanks to his pledge to crush subsidised wind power before it crushes Vermont.
The anger and fury felt by rural Vermonters is palpable and justifiably so.
The stench from wind industry bribery and corruption has become so rotten as to be fairly described as ‘rancid’. Spanish wind power outfit, Iberdrola’s ‘cash for votes’ scandal is just the latest in a long line of outrages in the Green Mountain State.
While buckets of easy cash might have seemed tempting, Vermont’s voters had other ideas. Here’s Robert Bryce on what went right for Vermont, and why.
Big Wind Blown Away in Vermont
15 November 2016
Big Wind lost big last Tuesday.
While it’s not clear what Donald Trump’s election means for federal energy policy, it’s abundantly obvious that the wind-energy sector’s agenda was crushed in Vermont.
Indeed, thanks to the resounding — and somewhat improbable — election of a new Republican governor, Phil Scott, it is possible that Vermont could ban construction of new wind projects. And in the towns of Grafton and Windham, voters rejected the proposed Stiles Brook wind project by big margins.
Scott’s whopping nine-point victory over Democratic nominee Sue Minter is all the more impressive considering that Vermont voted overwhelmingly for Democrats at the federal and state levels. Hillary Clinton beat Trump in the Green Mountain State by 29 points, and Democrats won huge majorities of the popular vote in every other state and federal race. Minter was apparently hoping to ride Clinton’s coattails.
Instead, she lost to Scott, despite being backed by a pro-wind-energy PAC called Wind Works Vermont and by one of America’s most prominent environmentalists, Bill McKibben. McKibben is a resident of Vermont (he teaches at Middlebury College) and the founder of 350.org, a group which aims to “stop all new fossil fuel projects.”
A few months ago, McKibben published a cover story in the New Republic in which he declared that the American economy should be running solely on wind and solar energy. He has frequently declared the need to “do the math,” but he didn’t bother to note that if such an all-renewable scheme were pursued, it would require a 20-fold increase in Vermont’s wind-energy capacity.
Although it cannot be stated definitively that wind energy was the deciding factor in Scott’s win over Minter, it is abundantly obvious that wind has been one of the most divisive issues in the state. During the Democratic primary for governor, two of the three candidates, Matt Dunne and Peter Galbraith, opposed wind-energy development.
In fact, Galbraith made opposition to wind energy the primary focus of his campaign. In the August primary, Galbraith came in third, with about 6,500 votes. Shortly after the primary, he told me that wind-energy development “was the issue [in the Democratic primary] and I think in the general election it will be an issue as well.” It appears that nearly all of Galbraith’s supporters went on to vote for Scott, who ended up beating Minter by more than 27,000 votes.
While Scott’s victory provides some clues about wind energy’s fate in Vermont, the clearest example of rural opposition to the encroachment of Big Wind came from voters in Grafton and Windham, the two towns that have been fighting the 82-megawatt Stiles Brook wind project for four years.
Last month, Spanish energy company Iberdrola announced that it would distribute about $565,000 per year among 815 registered voters in the two towns if the voters agreed to have the project built. The payments were to continue for 25 years. But voters weren’t interested. In Grafton, 60 percent of voters opposed the project. (235 votes opposed to 158 votes in favor). In Windham, the anti-wind sentiment was even stronger, with 64 percent voting against the project (181-101).
After the vote a Grafton resident, Anna Visely Pilette, told Vermont Public Radio that “Two little towns were able to stand up to an immense corporation, with all of its resources, all of its lawyers all of its lobbyists . . . I just am very gratified.” In the wake of the vote, Iberdrola officials said they would abandon the Stiles Brook project even though they claimed it would have – get this — made “an impact towards energy independence and climate change.”
As a result of Scott’s election, and the votes in Grafton and Windham, “things are looking up in Vermont,” says Annette Smith, the executive director of the non-profit Vermonters for a Clean Environment and a longtime opponent of wind-energy development in the state. “We have a governor who won’t roll over for the wind business.”
Wind turbine debate may have boosted Scott in election
14 November 2016
Phil Scott won the Vermont governor’s race by a 52-43 percent margin, and turnout in towns with wind energy fights suggests turbines had something to do with it.
Vermont’s election drew high turnout, with 68 percent of voters casting ballots for candidates and local issues. Of the issues that mattered most to Vermonters, wind energy siting was among the most divisive during the campaign.
Governor-elect Scott called for a moratorium on industrial wind development, while Democrat challenger Sue Minter said industrial-scale wind farms would continue to play a central role in the state’s energy future.
Clerks in multiple towns told Vermont Watchdog that Scott’s position was a hit with voters.
“I think his vote was of a stronger margin because of his stance on renewable energy,” said Windham Town Clerk Joeanne Chlebogiannis.
Her town and neighboring Grafton voted strongly against a proposed 24-turbine wind farm by Spanish energy company Iberdrola. In Windham, the vote was 181-101 against the project.
“I believe more people came out to vote strictly regarding the turbine issue,” Chlebogiannis said. “If you compare the list of the voters, people who generally don’t vote, voted.”
According to Windham’s voter list, 287 voters cast ballots in this year’s election, up from 173 voters in the 2012 presidential election. With only 317 registered voters, turnout for Windham was about 91 percent.
Cynthia Gibbs, assistant town clerk for Grafton, said 406 voters, out of 517 registered, cast ballots this year — a 79 percent turnout. In 2012, Grafton’s turnout was 72 percent, according to election tallies.
Gibbs suggested the wind energy issue could have played a role in motivating voters to get out and vote.
“One woman did say it was the first time ever she was voting Republican, and I assume she was voting for Phil,” Gibbs said. “What he said about wind turbines that he wants to hold off from building anymore, and I think that did make a lot of people here in Grafton favor him for that.”
On the question of whether to approve Iberdrola’s 24-turbine project, Grafton voters said no by a margin of 235-158.
Up north in Holland, in Orleans County, Vera Renewables recently filed a pre-application for a certificate of public good on a proposed single wind turbine. Diane Judd, the town’s clerk, said a non-binding poll showed residents reject the wind project by a count of 314-59. Another 44 said they were undecided.
“I think it mattered who the candidates were,” Judd said.
She added that it was the highest turnout she has seen for a general election — 303 votes out of 398 registered. “We had a phenomenal turnout; we got 77 percent. We’ve never had anywhere near that much and I’ve been a ballot clerk for a long time.”
Annette Smith, director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a group opposed to large-scale renewables, said controversies over wind energy have been influencing elections since the primaries.
“If you look at the primary results for the Democrats, Peter Galbraith [a Democrat strongly against industrial wind] carried Irasburg, Newark, Morgan, Windham and Grafton – those were the towns he won in. Those were a clear indication for me on how the [Election Day] votes were going to go in Windham and Grafton on the wind issue.”
All five towns favored Scott over Minter on Election Day.
Readsboro, a town with an existing wind energy project now being expanded, also saw a spike in voter turnout this year.
“We did [have high turnout], but I don’t know why they decided to show up for this one,” said Amber Holland, who said the 390 votes cast this year were well above the 340 votes cast in 2012.
Smith said having Scott as governor will affect wind energy fights in Vermont.
“This really changed the landscape for Vermont and it’s all positive,” she said. “Now we can work together and collaborate and not shut out good people with good ideas. The reign of the club is over.”