The wind towers proposed in the region weighed heavily on people’s minds as they discussed the state’s regulatory process.
About 40 people attended an informational panel Thursday night at the Rutland Intermediate School to learn the Public Service Board’s decision-making process on energy projects.
The event, sponsored by the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, featured John Beling, Anne Margolis, senior officials with the Department of Public Service, and Bill Coster, policy analyst with the state Agency of Natural Resources.
“You should look at the Public Service Board as a court,” said PSB board member John Burke, who was in the audience. “We are working as judges. We have to listen to the evidence. … We take evidence and weigh that evidence and make a decision.”
Although panelists focused on the board’s regulatory process, the audience’s questions were heavily motivated by the proposed wind farm project on Grandpa’s Knob.
Lisa Wright-Garcia of Florence asked Coster about the wind project developer’s assertion that ANR only has a “desktop assessment” of the area. She said the developer, Reunion Power, will have more in-depth information than the agency possesses once it completes its studies.
Coster said, in general, the agency has a lot of baseline information from all areas of Vermont. He said the professionals generally used by developers are highly regarded and use the same guidelines approved by ANR.
“The way we approach it is that we put the burden of proof on the developer,” Coster said. “Typically this information is very objective. We do field-check things that may seem suspect. The ridges in the area are well known to our staff.”
He added that ANR goes through a rigorous process years before the project goes before the PSB as it works with applicants to minimize any “undue adverse effects” in the area.
“Through the process we might come to an agreement with the developer on specific places to mitigate the impacts,” Coster said.
Beling said his department follows statutory and detailed criteria to determine whether a project is a public good before they make a recommendation to the PSB. He said they consider the findings from the developer along with information from the department’s experts and outside source.
“The department would look at the information and we would put that into the records,” he said when asked about a report from the Vermont Electric Power Company on New England’s energy.
Asked how much “clout” local municipalities have when opposing a project, Beling said the PSB makes the final decisions, but it considers local votes and clearly written community plans. Though, he added, it was on a case-by-case basis.
“It’s a state process. It’s not a local process,” Beling said. “You can’t prevent (a developer) from filing a petition.”
Section 248, regulated by the PSB, is a Vermont land use law that requires utilities to apply for a Certificate of Public Good.
At least 45 days before they file with the PSB, developers must present complete project plans to regional planning commissions and towns affected by the project, Margolis said.
PSB board members visit the site, at least one public hearing is held in the county where the project is located, followed by a series of hearings where testimony is taken.
“This allows for the board to listen to public concerns they might not get to hear,” Margolis said.
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