MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Annette Smith has been fighting the power for more than 15 years, tenaciously opposing energy projects she believes harm the environment or quality of life in Vermont.

Now she is the target of a criminal investigation into whether her efforts constitute unlicensed legal work — but her allies say her only offense is too often annoying a green power industry that boasts deep pockets.

“Even though this is a preposterous charge, and will likely be thrown out, its purpose will be fulfilled: to chill anyone’s free speech rights who dares to question the powerful in Montpelier,” attorney Deborah Bucknam wrote in an op-ed.

Smith’s efforts to give towns and local groups greater say in large-scale renewable energy projects are meant to “help those who cannot afford the high priced lawyers the developers can,” wrote Bucknam, who has represented critics of a wind project in northeastern Vermont.

Smith, 59, uses a small solar installation to power her home in Danby, where she milks a cow by hand and defies Vermont winters by growing citrus — limes and grapefruit — in a greenhouse. But she has been an outspoken critic of what she sees as the negative effects of large-scale wind and solar projects: wildlife deaths and noise pollution from wind turbines, visual blight from sprawling solar arrays.

She won’t comment on the specifics of the allegations — “Anything I say can be used against me,” she said — but called the investigation “a government-sponsored SLAPP suit,” using an acronym meaning “strategic lawsuit against public participation.”

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