On January 4, the chair of the Windham Selectboard wrote to the VLCT Board of Directors outlining her experience with an application for three meteorological (Met) towers to measure wind speeds in Windham. The town of Windham has 550 properties, 320 registered voters, and an annual budget of just over $600,000. Iberdrola, the applicant, is one of the largest wind developers in the world. According to the selectboard chair, “The financial, emotional and societal costs to small towns are becoming more and more obvious and the fight is being carried out by those with the least resources to fight it. Even more importantly, one of Vermont’s most cherished values, municipal authority, is in serious jeopardy.”
She asked the VLCT Board, without taking a stand for or against big wind, to represent the interests of municipalities in the legislative discussion of Vermont’s siting of industrial wind.
At its January 10 meeting, the VLCT Board took up the Windham Selectboard’s request, mindful of VLCT’s responsibility to represent its members, the potential divisiveness of the issue of renewable generation, and the overall goal of increasing Vermont’s renewable electricity generation. The Board has authority in its bylaws to “adopt positions on issues not addressed in the [Municipal P]olicy.” As the result of a vote at the 2012 VLCT Annual Business Meeting, the policy is silent on the issue of a municipal role in the permitting of energy generating facilities in the state. However, the Preamble to the adopted 2013 Municipal Policy does state:
Where this Municipal Policy is silent on a public policy issue affecting municipal government, it shall be the position of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to support the provision of authority, autonomy, and resources to cities and towns.
Absent a more specific policy relating to the siting of renewable energy facilities, VLCT staff would advocate generally for more authority and autonomy for municipalities in the siting and permitting process.
Two senators have introduced a bill to establish a three-year moratorium on wind development, map wind resources in the state, and restore regulatory authority over energy generation facilities to the municipal level. The governor’s energy siting commission is continuing its work to address issues raised by the Public Service Board permitting process for renewable electricity generation, particularly industrial scale wind. One of the work elements of that commission is to “compare the role of and/or opportunity for public participation, public advocacy, and municipal, town, or regional planning body participation in Vermont’s approval process for electric generation projects with state-level procedures used elsewhere, Resources and Energy Committee’s new chairperson is supportive of both a moratorium on wind development until mapping of potential sites is complete and increased status for local governments in permitting for electricity generation facilities. A second bill has been introduced that would allow the construction of industrial wind towers if they have been approved by the host municipality, any adjoining municipality from which the tower will be visible, and any municipality whose interests would be affected.
Increasingly, municipalities are intervening in Public Service Board (PSB) proceedings that deal with wind and biomass generating facilities and the Northeast Reliability Project (Vermont Electric Power Company transmission lines) being proposed in or near their backyards. In recent years, they include Albany, Barton, Brighton, Charlotte, Chester, Craftsbury, Derby (and Derby Line and Derby Village), Fair Haven, Ferrisburgh, Georgia, Holland, Lowell, Lyndon, New Haven, Middlebury, Milton, Newark, Pownal, Readsboro, Searsburg, Sheffield, Shelburne, Springfield, Sutton, Westmore, and Wilmington.
After substantial discussion of the issue, the VLCT Board voted to support the position that the PSB be required to give substantial consideration to municipalities, by at least:
• holding hearings in the municipalities potentially affected by the projects at issue,
• including all local decisions concerning the project within the PSB docket,
• requiring the PSB to formulate areas of inquiry based on concerns raised in the local hearing process, and
• requiring any decision on the project address the local concerns raised in the local decisions.
The Board is looking forward to receiving the recommendations of the governor’s energy siting commission, due in April, and to staying informed on the discussion in the legislature around related proposed bills. It may modify its position after reviewing those matters as they develop.
Contact Karen Horn at 1-800-649-7915 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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