Both energy developers and the citizens who oppose their projects complain that the state’s regulatory process is too burdensome.
But both sides fundamentally disagree about what’s wrong, and how to fix it.
The differing views came out on Friday in a meeting of a new commission charged with reviewing how Vermont sites and approves energy projects.
Josh Bagnato works for FirstWind, which built a 16 turbine wind project in Sheffield in the Northeast Kingdom. He says the Public Service Board is professionally run and makes decisions based on facts and the law. That’s the good side, he says. But Bagnato says the review process can be lengthy, expensive and unpredictable.
“Unlike other states – particularly Maine where we do a lot of business – they have statutory timelines for the permitting agency in that case the DEP to make a decision,” he says. “That’s not the case in Vermont. It’s difficult for investors to sort of wait around for decisions particularly when you don’t know when they’re going to come.”
Another wind developer said opponents should be forced to pay for tying up projects in unnecessary appeals.
But citizens who have appeared before the Public Service Board against large energy developers said they were outgunned financially and overwhelmed by the board’s legal requirements.
Noreen Hession is from Newark, which has voted to amend its town plan to bar large scale wind development. Yet the PSB ruled recently against the town and allowed the developer to proceed with an application to put up wind measurement towers.
“And now, the icing on the cake, is the landowner is suing the town,” she says. “We’re a tiny town with limited resources. We have people who love our community and we love the natural world. And this process is taxing our already stretched resources.”
The energy siting commission is supposed to make recommendations to the Legislature by next April.