Plans for a large commercial wind farm on a mountaintop in Lowell in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom received a boost with overwhelming voter approval on Town Meeting Day.
The utilities that planned the project, known as Kingdom Community Wind, won by a three-to-one margin at Lowell's town meeting Tuesday. But the opposition was intense, and the utilities -- Green Mountain Power and the Vermont Electric Cooperative -- say they're not taking the opponents for granted.
David Hallquist, Vermont Electric's CEO, told WCAX News, "The 25 percent opposed, it's very emotional for them. So we really, as GMP and VEC move forward, we have to be very sensitive to work with those people who were really upset over the vote."
The project still needs to undergo the permit process, which could take a year.
Hallquist says the proposal is a good deal for VEC customers because the customer-owned utility does not have to put up any investment capital. Since this is VEC's service area, it will get 16 percent of the power output of around 50 megawatts or more -- paying only its cost. It's an even better deal for residents of Lowell because the town gets up to half a million dollars a year for the next 25 years, which would cover the municipal portion of local property taxes.
"You know, some people have called this a bribe," Hallquist said. "The reality is, think of it as a $150 million house. They have to pay real estate taxes. And that's what that's all about."
Green Mountain Power puts up the full $150 million and gets 84 percent of the total power output of 50 to 63 megawatts, depending on the exact configuration of 20 to 24 wind turbines. That's enough power to run 20,000 households, or a city the size of Burlington.
The utilities worked hard to promote the plan, knowing how controversial any sizable project can be. GMP spokeswoman Dotty Schnure said, "This is very big project for a company the size of Green Mountain Power, so this will take a lot of our resources to see it to fruition. But I think what we've demonstrated here is that wind can be supported by Vermont communities and there's several important parts about that. One is that it does have a local benefit in that Green Mountain Power and VEC customers get the power at what it costs us to produce it."
With town meeting approval in hand, the utilities say they're ready to start the permit process, which could take a year.