MONTPELIER – Two Vermont state senators called Thursday for legislation that would impose a three-year moratorium on large-scale wind power projects in the state and for a more thorough environmental review of energy projects.
Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, said review by the Public Service Board, the three-member panel that considers proposed utility projects, is an inadequate process. He and Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, said the process does not allow for enough public participation.
The senators’ move drew a flurry of press statements from environmental and renewable energy groups, saying a moratorium would be a job killer and would hurt Vermont’s efforts to fight climate change by reducing carbon emissions.
Gov. Peter Shumlin, who would have to sign any bill imposing a moratorium or changing the way wind projects are reviewed, said at a news conference that he was cool to the ideas. The governor noted he recently appointed a special commission to look at the way Vermont reviews energy projects.
Projects like the large-scale wind power installations on Lowell Mountain in Lowell and in Sheffield are reviewed under state law designed to balance the need for energy versus environmental protection. Benning and Hartwell would have them reviewed instead under Act 250, in which a broader range of development projects are subject to what they maintain is more stringent environmental review.
“Let’s hit the reset button and redefine this conversation in a way that makes sense,” Benning said in an interview.
The senators argued that the bulk of Vermont’s greenhouse gas emissions come from vehicles and building furnaces. Vermont gets large amounts of power from Canadian hydroelectric dams, a New Hampshire nuclear plant and other low-carbon sources. With electricity accounting for just a fraction of Vermont’s carbon footprint, a full build-out of potential wind power sites in the state would gain little, the senators said.
Meanwhile, extensive environmental damage is being done to the fragile mountaintop environments where wind towers are being built, they said. Hartwell said aerial photos taken by Benning showed huge swaths of trees were cut down along the Lowell Mountain ridge line, where Green Mountain Power recently built 21 turbines.
Trees absorb carbon, and “the forest is the single biggest carbon sink we have,” Hartwell said.
The Vermont Natural Resources Council was among several groups defending wind power development in the state.
“VNRC believes that carefully sited renewable energy generation facilities – including wind turbines – coupled with aggressive energy conservation and efficiency strategies, are a responsible response to climate change, peak oil and the need for an independent, clean energy economy,” it said in a statement.
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