Lowell Gears Up For Vote On Wind Project

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(Host) The Northeast Kingdom town of Lowell is gearing up for a big Town Meeting vote on Tuesday.

Voters are being asked whether the town should allow a wind farm on Lowell Mountain.

VPR’s Amy Noyes reports:

(Noyes) Voter registration is up in the town of Lowell. Last year at town meeting there were just over 500 voters on the checklist. Now that number is up around 600. Town officials credit Tuesday’s vote on the Kingdom Community Wind Project with renewing voter participation.

What’s most impressive to Lowell Town Clerk Nanette Bonneau is the number of absentee ballots requested for Tuesday’s town meeting. Unlike other items on Lowell’s agenda, the wind project question is being posed in the ballot booth, which will allow for absentee voting.

(Bonneau) "The requests for absentee ballots has been astronomical. I think, since I’ve been in office, for 24 years, this is the first year we’ve seen close to 200 requests for absentee ballots."

(Noyes) Kingdom Community Wind is a joint project of Green Mountain Power and Vermont Electric Cooperative. The project is still in the planning stages, but it’s intended to include between 16 and 24 wind turbines and related infrastructure.

Normally, the first test of public support for such a project would come before the Vermont Public Service Board. However, project organizers are first putting the question to Lowell voters. If they vote the project down, Vermont Electric Cooperative CEO Dave Hallquist said there will be no Kingdom Community Wind project on Lowell Mountain.

(Hallquist) "We don’t want to bring something to the local people that they don’t want. If the Lowell voters say ‘no’ to the project, we’ll walk away. If they say ‘yes’ we’ll begin the process of the hearings with the Public Service Board and apply for a certificate of public good."

(Noyes) There is an incentive for Lowell taxpayers to support the project. Kingdom Community Wind is promising to pay the town a minimum of $400,000 annually. That’s enough to cover all of the Town property tax, leaving taxpayers only responsible for school taxes. It would cut Lowell’s total tax bill by about one-third.

While it’s an attractive offer to many, Town Treasurer Pam Tretreault said there are plenty of Lowell residents against the project.

(Tretreault) "People are concerned about the aesthetics. They’re concerned about property values. I’ve spent quite a bit of time researching that with other towns that already have built wind farms, and I did not find any negative impacts on property values."

(Noyes) Whatever Lowell voters decide, Town Clerk Bonneau is confident Lowell voters will truly have had their say.

(Bonneau) "This has been and is an issue that is very close to people’s pocket books, to their own beliefs as far as green energy, so it’s important to them. And I think that we’ll find out at Tuesday’s town meeting just where the town of Lowell stands."

For VPR News, I’m Amy Noyes.

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