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Jon Mack’s timely description (“Cell tower approval process undermines democracy,” Feb. 16-17) of dealing with Vermont law and the Public Service Board regarding cell tower placement in Newfane is clear and perceptive. It is not only descriptive; it gets at basic principles and issues.
Everything in his account also applies to a town asserting its interests relative to any construction project within the jurisdiction of the PSB, including electric power generation. There are technical differences and a huge difference in scale and impact between a cell tower and 10 or 15 churning wind turbines 500 feet tall, but the position of the town and its citizens relative to the project developer and the PSB is the same. If it chooses to challenge them, the “host” town is at great legal and financial disadvantage.
In evaluating benefit to the state as a whole relative to state utility policies, the PSB is only required to give “due consideration” to issues that are brought up as it decides on a developer’s proposal. It may find, as in Newfane, that there is an adverse, but not “unduly adverse” effect of a project. Town governments, and rarely individuals, can be participants in a case, but in fact have little effective influence as described in Jon Mack’s article. Working against teams of specialized professionals representing the big money of
wind power development, a town can assert its interests only through great expenditure of time and effort by town officers and other volunteers plus thousands of dollars for legal assistance.
Commercial wind power projects present many negative impacts that are not adequately addressed by the PSB process. Vermont needs a time-out to evaluate positive and negative aspects of the wind power developments that already exist and to bring wind power under the jurisdiction of Act 250. This would provide for local and regional planning participation as now exists for other industrial developments with extensive land use and social impacts.
Bills for this purpose are coming up in the Legislature. Residents of every town on the VELCO power transmission corridor in Windham County need to pay particular attention and support these legislative efforts. Proximity to VELCO lines is essential for siting wind power projects. The Coolidge Connector runs through the Windham/Grafton site and continues south through six towns into Vernon. It comes near to Putney and Marlboro. Any accessible ridge close enough to this line or to the East-West Connector that arcs over from Arlington to Dummerston, could be a target of wind power developers. We don’t know, because these projects are planned quietly, over months or years, and there are no guidelines or rules determining where they can go. A potential wind power site does not necessarily have to be very large acreage, or at particularly high elevation, or away from habitations. The first a community may know about it is when the developer applies to the PSB, and the town has 30 days to make its initial response.
Marlboro, March 6
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