Saint Albans Messenger; September 26, 2016
As a long-time community-minded local businessman whose family businesses have been employing fellow Vermonters for decades, doing the right thing for the environment and the Vermont economy is not new to me. In the 1990s, when my family built up Sticks and Stuff, a local chain of hardware and building supply stores, we found a greener way to run our business’ truck fleet. By producing renewable, clean-burning biodiesel from used cooking oil from local restaurants, we saved on fuel costs, we helped local restaurants save on waste disposal, and we reduced air pollution.
Recently, my family took another step to contribute to Vermont’s clean energy economy when we filed for approval for a wind energy project on the hill behind our Swanton home. Swanton Wind will produce enough renewable energy to meet the electrical needs of more than 7,300 average Vermont households annually. Since our first venture into renewable energy, the climate has changed at an alarming and devastating rate. Now, we want our piece of the working landscape to work a little harder in the fight against climate change.
Our property is a good site for wind. Like the cornfields and 20+ businesses around us, the hill behind our home is part of our working landscape. The land was heavily logged for many years by the timber company that owned it previously. The existing road and trail network crisscrossing the hill now provides access to a 12,000+ tap commercial sugaring operation that will continue to harvest sap alongside the wind turbines that will someday harvest energy from the wind. The site is not a sensitive or pristine high-elevation ridgeline.
This wind project IS in our own backyard, in a community where our family has deep roots and a long track-record of economic contributions. We have invested much of our hard-earned life savings to ensure this wind project is done right. Swanton Wind’s permit application reflects that investment. It includes numerous environmental, economic, and sound studies supporting a project that will meet or exceed Vermont’s rigorous environmental and health protection standards. Because we are so confident that our project will be a good neighbor, we have offered to buy-out nearby property owners who are unhappy about having a clean energy project near them. Wind projects and healthy real estate markets co-exist across Vermont and the country. The same will be true around Swanton Wind as recent nearby home purchases by individuals with full knowledge of our proposed wind project demonstrate.
Our project will join Vermont’s other operating wind projects in contributing to the clean energy economy. Swanton Wind will make approximately $150,000 in annual Town payments, enough to pay our town’s entire annual library or police budget. Our economist’s calculations show that Swanton Wind will result in a gain of $4 million in wages for Vermonters and a gain of $392,000 in State tax revenues during project construction. During operation, Swanton Wind will contribute $175,000 in annual State revenues as well.
Unfortunately, some politicians are letting fear trump facts when it comes to wind energy. I’m disappointed that a businessman like Phil Scott has joined this vocal minority in taking an extreme anti-wind position. Just minutes after my family announced our extensive permit application Scott spoke to a small group of N.I.M.B.Y. opponents nearby. Scott jumped to conclusions without learning the facts about our project or understanding who we are and how many other Vermont businesses and services we are supporting. That’s not fair and it’s not business friendly.
As a small-government Republican and a fellow construction business owner, I would expect Scott to understand how chilling his threat to issue an executive order banning a specific type of development would be for Vermont’s business climate and reputation as a place to invest. Development of all kinds requires years of careful and expensive planning to ensure compliance with Vermont’s environmental laws. No developer expects guaranteed project approval, but those of us who take the risks –creating jobs and new tax revenue while helping meet state clean energy goals — should be able to count on a full and fair permitting review. By pandering to the anti-wind minority, Scott’s executive order scheme would deny us that due process. That’s an anti-business precedent that the state’s economy cannot afford.
Wind is working for Vermont’s economy and its environment. For the future of our rapidly warming world, let’s hope that politicians will keep it that way.
Travis Belisle, Swanton