How will the Vermont Energy Rebellion affect the 2016 elections?

Jan 09, 2016 No Comments by

The Vermont Energy Rebellion will be an important factor in Vermont’s 2016 elections.

The rebellion has been underway for several years, but it has spread like wildfire since the 2015 enactment of Vermont’s new energy law, Act 56 (better known as RESET).

RESET might have been hailed as a triumph if it had engaged Vermont communities in the achievement of some pretty ambitious energy goals. But, RESET is no triumph. It has turned achievement of our goals over to energy developers, many of whom are running roughshod over our communities.

Dozens of towns are rebelling against RESET by passing resolutions calling for siting reform, by adopting restrictive municipal plans, and by opposing bad projects.

The voters in rebellion towns are angry and that anger has had a measurable effect on past elections. The Northeast Kingdom town of Craftsbury is a good example.

In 2010, Peter Shumlin won 55% of the vote in Craftsbury, running against Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie—a well-known, well-liked candidate with plenty of experience running statewide campaigns. Across the state, Mr. Shumlin won only 49.5% of the vote, so Craftsbury, at 55%, was a very good town for him in 2010.

In 2014, Governor Shumlin won only 31% of the vote in Craftsbury. This time he was running for re-election against Scott Milne, a relatively-unknown political newcomer. It wasn’t a good year for the governor: his share of the vote dropped 3 points statewide. But in Craftsbury, he dropped 24 points.

What happened?

Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell—that’s what happened.

Green Mountain Power began construction of the 21-turbine wind project in the summer of 2011. Operation of the 459-foot-tall turbines began in December, 2013—just in time for GMP to cash in on the federal Production Tax Credit, which was about to expire.

Craftsbury lies in the shadow of GMP’s turbines. While many townspeople didn’t like the view, what really rankled them was their treatment at the hands of the Public Service Board. The PSB not only ignored the town’s worries about the project’s aesthetic impacts, the board ignored the town’s concerns about stormwater, wildlife habitat, forest fragmentation, and health impacts.

Craftsbury voters held Governor Shumlin responsible for the project and for the way they were treated by the PSB and they punished him at the polls.

The story was the same in neighboring Albany, where the governor dropped 17 points from 2010 to 2014, as well as Eden (13 points), Newport Town (12), Irasburg (10), and Westfield (9).

Even the threat of a wind project turned voters against the governor. This was borne out in Windham (threatened by the Spanish company formerly known as Iberdrola) and Newark (threatened by Seneca Mountain Wind). In Windham the governor lost 12 points between 2010 and 2014 and in Newark he lost 18. Newark’s vote was not a party thing, because Democratic Senator Jane Kitchel’s share of the Newark vote increased from 2010 to 2014.

In 2014, the Vermont Energy Rebellion was centered in those few towns that had been targeted by wind developers. But, RESET has started a new feeding frenzy among energy developers.

Towns that have flat land and three-phase power are being attacked by solar developers who are more interested in cashing in than in cooperating with our communities. These “solar towns” are finding out what the “wind towns” already knew:

  1. Their municipal plans don’t matter
  2. The law allows energy developers to push them around
  3. And their state government likes it that way

As a result, the Vermont Energy Rebellion is spreading. As of December 31, 2015, it had spread to 76 towns and it is still spreading. It will affect the 2016 election.

We will be tracking how the rebellion impacts House and Senate districts. We will be reporting on the voting records of our current legislators (for an example, check out our Senate page).

We will also report on the statements that candidates for legislative and statewide offices make over the course of the campaign about town plans and Vermont’s coercive energy policies.

Stay tuned.

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