A proposal in Vermont’s Draft Comprehensive Energy Plan to consider rescinding a 2004 wind project moratorium on state land slipped through without consideration from the Agency of Natural Resources, according to ANR Secretary Deb Markowitz.
Due to an oversight in the drafting process, ANR never weighed in on the proposal to consider lifting the moratorium that ended up in the draft plan, Markowitz said. The current policy is appropriate, she said.
Markowitz said the “moratorium,” which prohibits large scale wind projects on ANR land is appropriate and consistent with land use practices the department supports.
“We think that the policy in place now works and is consistent with the goals of the energy policy,” Markowitz said.
To be clear, the “moratorium” on large-scale renewable energy development on state lands is not really a moratorium. In fact, the policy statement, which emerged during the Douglas administration, states: “The Agency shall actively encourage and promote development of small-scale, renewable energy applications in appropriate locations on ANR lands. (This includes ANR lands under long term lease to ski areas).” “Large-scale renewable energy projects” on such land are not permitted under the policy.
In fact, there already are turbines on state land. The agency recently held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a wind turbine on Burke Mountain, for example, which is located on state land.
“My understanding is the final version of the plan will have taken the lifting of the moratorium out and in fact will reflect the reality that what we have is not a complete moratorium but allows the kind of flexibility that I think is appropriate to engage in renewable energy projects that is consistent with the land ownership,” she said.
Sarah Hofmann, deputy commissioner for the Department of Public Service, said the department was not giving any sneak peaks as to what would be included in the final plan, which should come out some time in mid-December.
The draft plan recommends that ANR consider lifting the moratorium. It does not rescind the policy outright.
Even if the policy did go away, Hofmann said, new projects would still have to go through the certificate of public good process, which requires the public service board to consider adverse effects on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water purity, the natural environment and the public health and safety that new electricity generation projects would cause.
The idea of rescinding the policy drew mixed reactions from environmental groups and lawmakers.
The Green Mountain Club, which works to preserve the Long Trail, wrote in its comments that it opposed the state lifting the moratorium “as long as the state continues to lack clear policy and guidelines for wind energy development projects.”
Will Wiquist, executive director of the Green Mountain Club, said his group had voiced concerns with lifting the moratorium early on. Wiquist said the club has been working for 20 years to purchase land in operation with the state and preserve it so people can enjoy the trail, which travels the length of the state from south to north. The comments filed by the club propose an evaluation of the cumulative impacts of wind project development on the landscape, considering the utility-scale wind projects on ridges at Georgia, Sheffield, and Lowell, as well as the Deerfield Expansion already in progress.
In comments to the Department of Public Service regarding the policy, the Vermont Natural Resources Council said rescinding the policy would be premature until the state completes its natural resource inventory and mapping project to determine whether state lands are appropriate for wind development.
On the other hand, the Vermont Public Interest Research Group supported lifting the policy. Their comments state: “The current ban on wind turbines on state lands is not only unnecessary but also sends the message that wind power is somehow worse than other development that benefits the state.”
Paul Burns, executive director of VPIRG, said if the state is serious about renewable energy it needs to consider wind projects on state land, including those with more than one turbine. Like state buildings are an appropriate place to demonstrate a commitment to renewable solar energy, Burns said, land could be a demonstration of commitment to wind, subject to all environmental regulations.
“As one of the most benign forms of generating electricity, it should not be treated more harshly from a regulatory standpoint than anything else,” Burns said.
The proposal to lift the policy drew even more criticism from Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, who issued a press release last week proposing legislation that would make a prohibition of wind projects on state land a law rather than just a policy. Galbraith’s proposal would also require consent of all towns in the “viewshed” of a proposed project for an industrial-scale wind project.
Galbraith said his proposal would prohibit projects on private conservation land as well as ANR-managed land.
“If we protect land for its pristine qualities and we allow projects there, we’re defeating the purpose for which it was protected,” Galbraith said.
He said the consent of surrounding towns is only fair considering that their view may be affected more than that of a town that hosts a project.
Tony Klein, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, initially criticized the supposed “viewshed veto” Galbraith’s legislation would allow. Klein said approval of projects should be up to the state Public Service Board.
Klein said his concerns involve the proposal that surrounding towns have an effective veto more than the moratorium in general. He said it is more of a “feel-good” moratorium anyway, since there is really no appropriate siting for large-scale projects on state lands that anyone is currently aware of.
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