JOHNSON, VTâ€“ Vermont Electric Cooperative (VEC) members gave the okay by a wide margin Tuesday to partner with Green Mountain Power in upgrading the transmission line from Lowell to Jay, which will also be used by GMP for the Kingdom Wind Project.
The highly controversial vote, which was widely publicized, resulted in a voter turnout of about 20 percent. Typical votes result in about 8 percent of the membership voting.
More than 6,700 VEC members cast ballots during a special election. Both VEC and opposition groups including Energize Vermont mailed out flyers to VEC members and had automated voice messages to membersâ€™ home phones, touting their messages.
Opposition groups are saying that the co-op spent about $55,000 on the â€śvote yesâ€ť campaign, but the co-opâ€™s CEO Dave Hallquist says that the opposition has miscalculated and isnâ€™t being fair in their statement. Hallquist said that about $20,000 was spent on the â€śvote yesâ€ť campaign and noted that $35,000 is always allotted for special meeting budgets.
There is no report on how much money Energize Vermont spent on their ads, flyers and campaign, or where that money came from.
Results for three ballot items and the election of a director in VEC's District 3 were announced Tuesday evening at the special meeting of the VEC membership, held at its headquarters in Johnson.
The vote for the upgraded transmission line was 5,340 in favor to 1,379 opposed. An agreement to purchase power from Hydro-Quebec passed with 5,970 votes in favor and 700 opposed. And a bylaw amendment allowing the board of directors to set methods for returning excess equity to members passed 5,572 in favor and 991 opposed.
"High voter turnout reflects the importance of energy issues to VEC members. As an electric cooperative, our members have a voice in making important decisions about our energy future," said Hallquist. "The level of involvement in this election is unprecedented and we view this as a very positive sign for the future of our democratic organization. This is one of the advantages of being a co-op."
In VEC's District 3, candidate Carol Maroni was elected with 379 votes to fill a vacant seat on the VEC Board of Directors. Six other candidates ran for the open seat and results are as follows: Michael Ladd received 311 votes, Lerry Chase received 240 votes, Joseph Torter received 184 votes, Steve Merrill received 86 votes, Amy Kelly received 79 votes, and Dianne Laplante received 66 votes.
Nancy Warner, President of the Lowell Mountain Group, which opposes the Lowell Wind project, said she isnâ€™t surprised by the vote results and canâ€™t blame people for how they voted, especially in light of the economy. Warner says she thinks the VEC members who will be affected by the wind project are mainly the ones who voted â€śno.â€ť
Warner remains optimistic, however. Recent reports indicate that GMP may not get the permits they need by the August 1 deadline that they set to begin construction.
Warner wants due diligence, and does not want the project rushed. â€śHaste makes waste,â€ť she said.
In an interview, Warner talked about being a life-long Vermonter, her love for the mountains, and her lifeâ€™s work to protect them.
The Lowell ridgeline contains the headwater for two rivers, which Warner wants to make sure are protected. She also would like to see politics kept out of the process. Warner said she is not against wind, but wants to make sure the people and the environment are protected..