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Planners plan to review reactions to power projects

Northeast Kingdom’s regional planning commission leaders will take a look this week at how to react to new power generation and telecommunications tower projects.

Steve Patterson, Northeastern Vermont Development Association executive director, says there have been an increase in smaller projects and it may warrant a change in the way NVDA as the regional planning commission reviews them.

Currently, NVDA takes its cues from the host town, Patterson said, especially if the project is envisioned in the regional plan. That means automatically issuing a letter of support when it is requested from developers.

But now the likelihood is increasing that there will be more small power projects such as the two-turbine Derby wind project or biomass plants in Newport City, Orleans or St. Johnsbury.

And there may be more requests for telecommunications towers. That includes the controversial one proposed by VELCO, the state’s electricity transmission company, for Nelson Hill Road in Derby.

NVDA officials should discuss whether to react to projects on a case-by-case basis, Patterson said.

Patterson said he would seek guidance this week from the executive committee of NVDA, which meets Wednesday at 6 p.m. in the Charlie Carter building at the Lyndonville industrial park.

The NVDA board of directors is made up of representatives of towns from throughout the NEK, appointed by boards of selectmen.

The discussion comes at an opportune time because NVDA is beginning work on the energy section of the regional plan, Patterson said.

Also this week, the committee could look at a written request from Derby Selectman Karen Jenne. She opposes both the new tower for Nelson Hill Road in Derby and the two large turbines for two farms on the hills above Derby Line. She is in the minority on the board when it comes to these projects.

She is helping some of the local residents who oppose the two projects, and said either one is a massive undertaking for any town official to research and participate in.

The VELCO tower is already before the Vermont Public Service Board and will be reviewed under Act 248, a highly technical process that is not as user friendly as the Act 250 land use permit process.

And the Derby wind developers are just weeks away from seeking a certificate of public good from PSB.

Jenne said that town boards don’t have enough time to review these types of projects in time to comment on them before the PSB.

Jenne said the NVDA should oppose any expedited review period.

Neither the Derby wind developers nor VELCO sought the expedited comment period of 21 days, Patterson said. The expedited comment period is allowed under state law.

Even so, officials in Derby struggled and in the end were unable to review the VELCO tower project in time to meet the 45-day window for the comment period this summer.

“Some towns or villages may meet only once a month and depending on when the paperwork is filed may not have time to warn meetings and respond in a timely manner,” Jenne said in her letter to Patterson.