DERBY – The Derby Planning Commission wants to know what voters think about wind projects.
The planning commission voted unanimously to request that the select board put a non-binding referendum on the March town meeting ballot on wind projects in Derby.
The commission made that vote last week in advance of the next meeting Monday, Nov. 5, when the planners intend to discuss energy projects including wind and how they fit into the town plan.
The conversation about wind energy projects comes as other towns in the state are voting to ban or restrict industrial wind projects as part of their town plan,
Towns opposed to wind projects were encouraged recently when the Vermont Department of Public Service, the electricity consumers’ advocate when it comes to power generation projects, opposed a new wind project in southern Vermont because the local town plan opposed it.
Planner Dave LaBelle, who will chair Monday’s meeting, said the planning commission members want some feedback, both in person from townspeople but also in a broader way from the community.
“Let’s just recommend we put some kind of question on the ballot,” LaBelle said about the quest for a referendum.
The commission left the phrasing of the non-binding referendum question up to the select board.
The commission wants to see what voters think about wind energy as part of the effort to update the Derby town plan.
The commission begins its look at the energy section of the town plan on Monday.
Derby zoning administrator Bob Kelley is helping the commission craft the plan update. The commission asked him to provide a copy of the energy section of the updated Morgan town plan as a template for a new Derby plan.
Kelley pointed out that the Derby commission just wanted to see what Morgan did, and has not made any decision about whether Derby commissioners agree with what Morgan has done.
The adopted town plan in Morgan states, “the town supports the development of renewable energy resources in general, but the town will only offer its support for individual projects that meet the needs of the community on a case-by-case basis.”
It also states that any big energy project must provide cheaper electricity rates for Morgan residents and neighboring towns in compensation for the amount of impact the project has.
By comparison, Lowell wind will sell power at cost to Vermont Electric Cooperative, which the co-op says will keep costs down for its member-customers.
The Morgan energy section of its town plan laments that the Legislature puts the sole decision-making authority over energy projects to the state utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board.
“The planning commission supports the development of small-scale renewable energy technologies for residents, farms and businesses.”
“However, because the state of Vermont has taken away the rights of municipalities to control renewable energy resources within their boundaries, the citizens of Morgan feel compelled to add the following guidelines to which we expect the Public Service Board to adhere to in its decision making should any commercial venture in the area be considered.”
The Morgan plan wants renewable projects to meet set-back requirements, just like any other development in Morgan.
The town plan requires that new small-wind turbines should not exceed 120 feet in height or extend in total height more than 30 feet above the tree canopy.
New renewable projects above 1,700 feet are prohibited on Morgan town lands, the plan states.
The town plan in Morgan supports “new community-scale energy facilities, including new transmission and distribution lines, substations, hydro dams, wind and solar farms, co-generation facilities and biomass plants that are designed to meet the expect needs of the town of Morgan and its adjacent communities.”
The Morgan plan also sets a standard of a “demonstrated public need that outweighs adverse impacts to town residents and resource” which must be documented in order to get Morgan town support for a large project capable of generating 500 kilo-watts.
One industrial-grade wind turbine would generate 3 mega-watts and have to meet that standard in Morgan, if the PSB agrees.
“Energy facility development must benefit communities (residents and businesses) in direct relation and proportion to the documented impacts of the proposed development on community facilities, services, economy and resources.
“In this instance ‘benefit’ means that such development must improve energy availability and distribution locally and lower costs locally before any energy is transmitted out of the area.”