MONTPELIER – Senators have removed a proposed moratorium from legislation regulating large-scale wind projects.
But the bill would now require that wind developments be judged under the full criteria of Act 250, the state’s main development review law.
Both sides of the wind debate are disappointed in the latest version.
Act 250 says developments must conform to local and regional plans. So Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, said the new version of the bill will give towns and regional planning commissions more control over wind projects.
“We felt that towns were not adequately represented in this process and the regional commissions were virtually absent,” he said.
Hartwell is chairman of the Natural Resources Committee and was a lead sponsor of the bill that originally called for a three-year moratorium on ridgeline wind projects.
As the bill went through multiple rewrites, the moratorium was shortened to less than a year, then removed.
“I think it’s based on all the testimony and all the evidence we received,” Hartwell said. “I don’t see the need to have a big, long moratorium to accomplish what we’re going to accomplish.”
Wind projects are now considered by the Public Service Board under a statute that has parallel language to many of the Act 250 criteria. But the PSB review has one significant difference. The board can approve projects over local opposition if it finds that they promote the “general good” of the state.
Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, pointed out that the Windham town plan bars ridgeline wind, yet the PSB recently approved wind testing equipment for a potential project. Galbraith said he believes wind developments should be reviewed as any other major commercial development.
“I have no problem with wind projects,” he said. “What I object to is imposing a large project on a town that doesn’t want it, and with an utter disregard for the effect it has on the people of the town.”
The Senate Natural Resources Committee discussed the bill the same day the Castleton Polling Institute released a new poll showing strong support for wind development. The poll – based on 620 interviews – found that 69 percent of those surveyed favored wind projects in their own communities.
Gabrielle Stebbins is the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, an advocacy and trade association. She said the poll demonstrates that Vermonters want more wind development. And she said the bill is a bad idea, because under the Act 250 criteria, regional plans could effectively impose a veto.
“It’s all a question of what’s in the best interest of the public good. If every town in Vermont says we don’t want to look at this stuff, where are we at?” she said. “We don’t want fracking. We don’t want tar sands pipeline. We don’t want wind. We don’t want solar because that’s not pretty either. We don’t want biomass. Where are we at? We have got to figure out how to work together and move forward to get to a clean, resilient energy economy.”
Project opponents were also dissatisfied with the latest draft of the bill. Matt Levin is with Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which has spoken out against several wind proposals. The group backed a moratorium so the state could assess the impact of existing projects.
“So it’s disappointing that the time for that isn’t there,” he said. “There are communities that definitely feel under threat by projects, and that continues. But we appreciate that the senators are taking people’s comments seriously and are trying to make changes to make the process more responsive and more inclusive.”
Sponsors hope to have the bill voted on by the full Senate before Town Meeting Day.