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State advocate poised to support town in wind case

The state Public Service Department is poised to oppose a developer’s first step toward constructing a wind energy project in the town of Newark after townspeople voted overwhelmingly against accepting turbines in their community.

Public Service Department Commissioner Elizabeth Miller, whose department represents the public in cases before the Public Service Board, said she expects to deliver on Gov. Peter Shumlin’s promise to support towns that vote not to allow wind turbines within their borders.

Newark residents voted 169-59 last month to amend their town plan not only to declare industrial-scale wind turbines “inconsistent with the town’s vision and goals,” but also to describe any industrial structure taller than 125 feet as “inappropriate” in their rural Northeast Kingdom community.

That description would apply to a wind-measuring tower Eolian Renewable Energy of Portsmouth, N.H., is seeking to place on the Hawk Rock ridgeline in Newark.

Eolian has said it hopes to erect as many as 35 turbines on mountains in Newark and neighboring Brighton and Ferdinand, but needs additional wind data to make sure its plans are feasible.

“I would expect to tell the Public Service Board (the wind-measuring tower) doesn’t meet the criteria” for approval, Miller said. The Public Service Board weighs many environmental, energy and economic factors in deciding whether to approve construction. Among other standards, an applicant must show that its proposal will not interfere with the “orderly development” of the region.

“Under the ‘orderly development’ criteria, town plans should matter,” Miller said, although she added that her department’s final position won’t be settled until it has reviewed all the filings in the case.

She also said she hopes not every town follows Newark’s lead.

“It would be unfortunate if towns all over Vermont didn’t allow investigations for energy projects to occur,” she said, noting there have been “a bunch of cases” where wind-measuring towers were erected, but no turbine project resulted.

The fight over the Newark meteorological tower is an unusual one. The temporary structures are usually approved quickly and with little public controversy. But the town of Newark and many of its residents chose to oppose the tower, saying they would like to nip the developer’s plans in the bud so they don’t face a bigger, more complicated fight when and if the Eolian proposes to put up turbines.

“I expect the administration to do what the governor told me they would do – support any town that did not want one of these projects,” Noreen Hession, a leader of the opposition group Newark Neighbors United said Wednesday.

A call to Eolian Renewable Energy was not immediately returned Wednesday.

Hession expressed concern about a Monday letter from Miller’s department to the Public Service Board that reported the Newark vote without taking a position in support of the town.

But Miller said her department will make its position clear after hearing from all the parties in the case.

It is not known how much weight the Public Service Board will give the statements in the town plan.

“If you look at other PSB decisions on met towers, there has not been a case where you had a clear statement in the town plan,” Miller said. “This is a new situation.”