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Meeting to explain energy permits

BRATTLEBORO – It’s got a bureaucratic name that may elicit more than a few yawns: Section 248 of Title 30.

But that Vermont law governs energy projects such as a potential – and controversial – wind-power development proposed for northern Windham County.

So officials are hoping for a good turnout at a Monday meeting designed to explain the Section 248 process – how it works, who makes decisions and who can weigh in.

“More and more people are asking questions about the permitting process for these things,” said Chris Campany, executive director of the Brattleboro-based Windham Regional Commission.

In the towns of Windham and Grafton, wind-power giant Iberdrola Renewables will have to go through the Section 248 process to install three meteorological-testing towers that could be a precursor for Windham County’s first commercial turbine site.

Permission for the testing towers will have to come via a “certificate of public good” from Vermont’s Public Service Board.

The state board also would have to approve any full-scale wind turbines at the site if Iberdrola chooses to pursue the project further.

While acknowledging the prominence of that project, Campany said Monday’s meeting “is about more than that.”

The session, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Union Hall on the Newfane Village Green, is a panel discussion featuring three state officials:

— Anne Margolis, renewable energy development manager for the
Department of Public Service.

— John Beling, public advocacy director for the Department of Public Service.

— Billy Coster, senior planner and policy analyst for the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources Office of Planning and Legal Affairs.

The meeting is designed primarily for municipal officials and those who serve on volunteer municipal committees. But Campany said the public is welcome as the session also will address “the role of town plans and the role of the general public” in the Section 248 process.

The law governs any facility that generates or transmits electricity. And Campany notes that, in the past, such projects mostly were “larger-scale, centralized production and distribution facilities.”

But that is changing.

Section 248 applications “seem to be increasing in number,” Campany said. “And there seem to be more and more centered around alternative energy” such as wind and solar.

“Even the state agencies are ramping up their staffing to deal with this,” he said.

Campany added that, while many residents and officials are familiar with the Act 250 process for land-use permitting, Section 248 is much different.

“The proceedings are very legal in nature,” he said. “It’s much more structured and much more formal.”