MONTPELIER – Vermonters bashed large-scale wind development during a public hearing Wednesday night on the state’s “Comprehensive Energy Plan,” a major study of Vermont’s current and future energy use that is scheduled to be out in the fall.
A controversial proposal to build 20 wind towers on a ridgeline in Lowell was the source of several residents’ frustration with “big wind” development, but the concerns varied from mining in China for the rare earth metals reportedly used to build the turbines, to the bats that can be killed and natural landscape that can be damaged by large wind projects.
“So I ask you to walk away from utility-scale wind technology and focus your efforts on small, local projects of diverse sources with the primary technology being solar,” East Calais resident Candice Shaffer told a panel of legislators at the Statehouse on Wednesday night.
John Matthews of Albany said he was “pretty upset.”
“I’m really distressed with the lies and the conning that’s gone on, especially up in Lowell, to try to put these wind towers up,” Matthews said.
Vermont residents aired their views before senators and representatives who sit on a variety of committees that focus on energy, natural resources, agriculture, economic development and transportation.
The public hearing was an early step in the Shumlin administration’s effort to update a comprehensive energy plan by October, a type of study that examines the use, cost, supply and environmental effects of energy in Vermont and makes projections for the future.
The Department of Public Service is required by law to create a comprehensive energy plan every 20 years and update it every five. The last plan was adopted in 1998, but efforts to update it in 2008 were left unfinished.
The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy held the public hearing Wednesday. Sen. Ginny Lyons, who chairs the committee, said the plan is a “huge opportunity for the state.”
“Whatever’s in the plan will drive decisions in state government, and state government’s decisions will affect people in their cars, in their homes, at schools and at their jobs,” Lyons said.
The plan is a chance for the state to identify everything that’s going on in Vermont related to energy, Lyons said.
The Legislature has passed many energy initiatives over the years, which are being carried out in the state by state agencies and other groups, Lyons said.
“But we don’t have that in a comprehensive way, so this is an opportunity to put all that together and identify the gaps,” Lyons said. “We’d like to know everything that’s going on.”
The hearing was not only a chance to get the public involved but also an opportunity for the Legislature to become involved in an effort that’s being led by the Shumlin administration. Lyons said there’s no process for the Legislature to approve the comprehensive energy plan.
The energy plan focuses on all energy used in Vermont, including electricity, heat and the fuel used for transportation, which each account for one-third of the state’s energy use.
Two of the goals of the plan will be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep energy costs competitive regionally.
One major change to Vermont’s energy supply that could be coming in the near future is the possible closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which received a vote of no-confidence from the Senate last year.
Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the Department of Public Service, said the study is not a forum for deciding the future of Vermont Yankee, but the plan will assume it’s closing down.
“The base case is Yankee running, and that’s what we have right now, so what’s needed is a plan for when Yankee ceases operating,” Miller said.
The Department of Public Service plans to hold public hearings on the energy plan this summer.