Wind power group ‘intimidated’ by social media? Really?

Saint Albans Messenger; September 2, 2016

Last week we wrote of the advocacy group titled Wind Works Vt. and the decision by the lobbyist group behind it to keep the names of its backers secret. We thought it self-defeating, something that would make the development of wind power more difficult than it already is.

In a letter elsewhere on this page, the decision was defended by Kyle Martel, the spokesperson for Wind Words VT and an employee of KSE Partners, the lobbyist group involved.

He writes that the decision to keep the backers of the organization private was made because of intimidation factors. Wind power developers are being harassed, bullied and threatened.

He writes: “In the past year alone we have seen a number of alarming incidents occur. In October 2015, an anti-Semitic voicemail threatening the life of a developer was left by an anonymous caller. In November 2015, a severed deer head was left on a developer’s porch. In May 2016, a threatening note was sent to a Select Board Chair, who then resigned his position. And since Wind Works VT was initiated a month ago, we have seen daily incidents of offensive social media postings and have received an email stating that we should be hanged.”

No argument. That is offensive. Our continual lament at many levels is that our social media channels have made conversation coarser, and compromise almost impossible.

But secrecy isn’t an acceptable response. And claims of intimidation cannot be used as a blanket excuse to hide behind the cloak of secrecy. In this case it’s a bit too convenient.

The Wind Works Vt. folks also need to acknowledge the intimidation that comes with money and power, both of which affect the discussion far more than isolated threats from Internet trolls. We doubt that Iberdrola Renewables, the giant wind power company based in Spain, is particularly threatened by Vermonters tweeting their opinions regarding the company’s wind turbines proposed for Vermont ridgelines.

Vermonters have the right to know who is doing the advocating, particularly when it comes to development that can have a disproportionate impact on the environment and to the people most directly affected. To suggest that deep-pocketed companies with a vested interest in seeing their projects approved are overmatched by social media trolls with no manners is ridiculous.

To withhold the advocacy group’s backers is a choice of convenience.

Mr. Martel does make the argument that what is good for one should be good for the other. He notes that Vermonters for a Clean Environment and the Energize Vermont groups have not been asked by the media to acknowledge their backers ….backers he contends are “anti-renewable.”

Point taken. The request for transparency should extend to them as well. It’s as important to know the forces opposing something as the forces in favor.

But the point of the editorial asking for transparency from the Wind Works Vt. group was not to expose its backers, thinking that would cripple their cause, it was to bring an openness to the debate that is now missing. The point is that secrecy robs the debate of any sincerity. Without this transparency the public turns naturally skeptical. There is no trust if the actors and their motives are not known.

This lack of transparency only feeds the online chatter the advocacy group finds “intimidating” which is why it is self-defeating. The more unknown something is, the more powerful it is imagined to be.

If Wind Works Vt. wants to sell the story of wind power in Vermont it will need to employ the one thing they’ve refused to do: Be open.

by Emerson Lynn

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