Sen. John Rodgers of Glover is confident that the bill seeking a three-year moratorium on wind project siting will be considered seriously by the Vermont Senate.
The bill could evolve. One of its leading sponsors, Sen. Joe Benning of Lyndonville, said Monday that a key element of the bill that would shift control of wind projects to oversight under Act 250 is gaining some traction.
And Rodgers said that the bill could also expand to include requirements that the health impacts be studied.
The bill, S.030, and the topics of renewable energy and climate change drew intense conversation in Montpelier last week.
Rodgers’ Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard moving testimony about health impacts from wind projects from Northeast Kingdom residents, which came after U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders and a leading global warming expert lobbied the Legislature to push renewables like wind.
The bill, Rodgers said, “has certainly started a conversation.”
Rodgers said the bill is getting mixed reviews. The Senate committee is likely to seek more testimony from Vermont health officials about wind turbine syndrome, which some residents say is affecting them.
And he says the bill should require health studies of wind project impacts on Vermont neighbors, he said. “I believe that should be in the bill.”
Rodgers said he believes the bill will emerge from the Natural Resources and Energy committee with “a strong vote” and get through the Senate. After that, it would be up to the pro-wind House to consider.
Benning said it’s up to the committee to add on requirements for health studies. He has no quarrel with that.
His focus now is finding a way to get the bill through the process.
“The word ‘moratorium’ seems to have people hung up,” Benning said.
He is looking for some kind of “middle ground” over the idea of putting wind siting regulation in the hands of the district environmental commissions around the state to review under Act 250 rather than leave it before the Vermont Public Service Board. Act 250 is considered to seek more local and town involvement for developments than the laws under which the PSB regulates energy projects.
“I am meeting with the Vermont Natural Resources Council on Thursday to see if we can’t come to some kind of an agreement,” said Benning. “There is, I think, lots of support of moving this into Act 250 jurisdiction, but the word ‘moratorium’ has a lot of people scared off, so I’m going to see what kind of middle ground can be reached to make everybody happy.”
Benning said he plans to continue fighting, pledging he will do “all I can do.”
The decision by Sanders to step into a state issue and environmental activist Bill McKibben’s speech to the joint meeting of the House and Senate made for “an interesting week,” Benning said.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I think that Bernie Sanders would step out of his long-promised role of not interfering with a state issue,” said Benning.
And McKibben urged defeat of the bill, he noted.
“Two things struck me immediately,” Benning said. “I don’t believe Bernie Sanders or Bill McKibben actually read the bill. If they had, they would understand that this is not simply a moratorium, it’s much deeper than that when you require the studies that we’re requiring, and you require that Act 250 take jurisdiction of the process.”
The testimony by Luann Therrien of Sheffield, who held her young daughter while talking about their first-hand experiences living near wind turbines, provided a powerful ending to the week, Benning said.
McKibben, in a letter last week, urged members of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group to lobby their legislators.
“Our Legislature has the opportunity to take the single biggest bite out of Vermont’s carbon emissions it ever has, by investing in heating efficiency,” he stated. “They know it, you know it and I know it, but for this to happen, you need to let your legislators know that you want them to act.”
Sanders said in a letter last week that he seek aggressive action on the federal level to transform the energy system in the U.S. “In several weeks, I will be introducing what I believe will be the boldest legislation in congressional history to do just that.”
But he said that Vermont must continue to be a leader in renewable energy and Sanders said that the state should resist opposition to wind projects.
“I am concerned that, currently, there is an effort in the legislature to put a moratorium on the construction of new wind projects. I strongly disagree with that effort not only in what it will mean for our state in terms of transforming our energy system, but what it will mean nationally.
“I have no doubt but that if Vermont ceases new wind development, the message will go out across the country, spread by the well-funded coal and oil companies, that even in Vermont, progressive Vermont, there is not a serious commitment to combating global warming; that even in Vermont people do not want to move aggressively toward sustainable energy.
“It is my view that would be a terrible message and one that would negatively impact the good work that people all over this country are doing.”
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