As the 2013 legislative session rolls into view, a passionate battle over energy permitting and a three-year moratorium on large-scale wind development is kicking into high gear.
Flanked by both Democratic and Republican legislators on Thursday, Sens. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, and Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, announced their intent to introduce a bill next week – the first week of the session – that would establish such a moratorium on wind projects with a production capacity of more than 500 kilowatts.
At the unveiling of the 40-page draft bill, an audience of more than 100 Vermont residents, legislators, lobbyists and special interest advocates cheered and booed their way through the presentation in the Statehouse’s cedar room.
Benning and Hartwell spearheaded the bill, as they feel the state should take time to assess how these projects are sited. They want to see if such projects are cost effective and environmentally appropriate for Vermont.
“We shouldn’t permit ourselves to be pressured by corporate, mostly out-of-state entities, while we take that time,” said Hartwell. “We shouldn’t be allowing our cherished mountains, our cherished history to be destroyed while we take that time. We shouldn’t involve ourselves in social upheaval while we take that time. For that reason, a bipartisan effort … is being made to make sure we back up the train, set the reset button and redefine a conversation with Vermont’s history and environmental proactivism involved in the discussion.”
The proposal comes one year after the Senate shot down a similar draft legislation Benning sponsored, which called for a two-year moratorium on projects 2.2 megawatts or greater. Since then, opposition to wind projects has grown, with a Montpelier demonstration in autumn drawing nearly 200 protestors.
While Gov. Peter Shumlin is strongly opposed to the idea of a moratorium, he has acknowledged local opposition to some large-scale wind projects and called for the creation of an energy siting commission in early October to analyze how electric generation projects are permitted in Vermont.
Benning and Hartwell’s proposal also calls for stripping the Public Service Board of its power to permit in-state electric generating plants and would give that jurisdiction to district environmental commissions and local land use authorities, except in the case of net metering systems. This component of the draft bill appears to runs against the grain of a bill Rep. Tony Klein, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, plans to put forward, which would call for a larger regional – rather than local – approach to planning and permitting such projects.
Passing the Benning-Hartwell bill is not going to be easy. For starters, Klein is vehemently against a moratorium, and House Speaker Shap Smith isn’t keen on the idea, either. Klein has also said that the current energy generation permitting process doesn’t need to be overhauled – just tweaked, if changed at all.
Many of Vermont’s most influential environmental groups also oppose the proposal. Such groups include, but are not limited to: the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), the Conservation Law Foundation, 350Vermont, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, the Citizens Awareness Network, the Vermont chapter of the Sierra Club and many others.
Opponents of the wind moratorium say that such a measure would be a step backwards in Vermont’s push to be a global leader in environmental stewardship and renewable energy. After Tropical Storm Irene and other benchmark weather disasters, VPIRG Director Paul Burns said Vermont should be part of the climate change solution and not the problem. Others argue that a moratorium would be bad for business and be irresponsible for a state that prides itself on local ways of life.
Christopher Kilian, Vermont director for the Conservation Law Foundation, issued a public statement panning the proposal:
“Buying power from outside Vermont means we are exporting air and water pollution and environmental damage by continuing our reliance on large scale hydro-dams, dirty coal and oil, and nuclear power,” Kilian said. “These energy sources are extremely damaging from both an environmental and public health perspective; wind and other renewable energy produced in Vermont is a key part of the transition away from these dirty sources of electricity.”
Residents and groups in favor of the moratorium – like Luke Snelling’s Energize Vermont and Annette Smith’s Vermonters for a Clean Environment, or VCE – argue that construction of large-scale wind is not so clean. They argue that leveling mountain tops and cementing long platforms for towering turbines is ruining Vermont’s mountains and harming its wildlife. They also point to widespread local opposition to projects around the state, from Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine project in Lowell to a proposed 20-turbine project on Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline in Rutland.
Smith says that large-scale wind projects are dividing the state and causing residents who live close to these projects to fall ill from vibrations and sound. She said the only solution is to ban large-scale wind projects in Vermont.
“We can’t develop energy this way. We need to work together,” she said. “It is absolutely essential that we don’t let any more mountains be destroyed and neighborhoods be divided. This is a technology that doesn’t belong in Vermont. We need to ban wind turbines from Vermont.”
Correction: Gov. Peter Shumlin said on Friday that he is still vehemently opposed to the idea of a moratorium on utility-scale wind development. VTDigger originally reported that Shumlin indicated earlier this week that he was not completely opposed to the idea.
Link to video of draft bill announcement: https://vimeo.com/56731168