The panel trying to figure out where to locate renewable energy plants appears to recognize the concerns of Vermonters in towns which oppose industrial-size wind projects.
The latest round of draft recommendations from the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission would not force a town like Newark or Brighton to find a place for big wind turbines, unlike a previous draft.
Instead, the draft recommendations now say that towns can reject one form of renewable technology as long as the towns promote alternative renewable energy projects instead.
However, regions can’t ban an entire renewable technology like big wind turbines, the recommendations state.
The commission has held multiple hearings, visited the Lowell and Sheffield wind projects and taken hours of testimony since Gov. Peter Shumlin created it in December. The commission’s goal is to present recommendations to the governor and to the Legislature about how to site new renewable energy plants so that Vermont can achieve its comprehensive energy goal of using 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
The state energy plan says that the 90 percent renewables can come from in-state or out.
The commission has scheduled its final deliberation meeting for Thursday, April 25, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in the Giga conference room, 3rd floor, Vermont Public Service Department, 112 State St., Montpelier.
The final recommendations are due April 30.
The draft recommendations are available at http://sitingcommission.vermont.gov/publications.
The commission’s draft recommendations say that towns and regions have to work toward the state’s renewable energy future.
Towns and regions must identify high-potential sites for “low-hanging fruit” projects, like expanding existing renewable generation at hydro-electric dams and biomass power plants like at Ryegate and McNeil in Burlington, and putting solar panels on public buildings and land, roofs, brownfield sites and under power lines.
Towns and regions would be required to identify low-potential areas that contain irreplaceable natural areas or of high value in their town and regional plans, the draft recommendations state.
“No regional planning commission or town can say ‘no projects’ in the region, either directly or in effect,” the commission stated in the draft.
And then the commission added the following language to the draft, which addresses towns’ concerns:
“The intent is to provide towns and regions the opportunity to proactively indicate how they can contribute to meeting state goals.
“If certain towns or regions have a strong resistance to a particular technology, they can propose alternative ways to contribute to regional goals,” the commission states in the draft recommendations.
The commission later reiterates a requirement that the regions find places for wind projects and other types of renewables.
“No region can ban any specific technology outright,” the draft states.
The regional commissions would continue to approve town plans, but with assistance and financing from the state to make sure that the town energy plans conform to the state’s comprehensive energy plan, according to the draft.
And the siting commission would have the Vermont Department of Public Service approve the energy section of regional plans.
If this process were in place today, the regional plan updated last month by the Northeastern Vermont Development Association, which is the NEK regional commission, would not get state approval because it calls for a three-year moratorium on wind projects while studies on impacts are done.
Currently, the Department of Public Service does not play a role in regional plan formation.
Statutes say the state does not have oversight authority but can comment about it at hearings. Oversight would require an overhaul of laws governing regional commissions.
But in exchange, the commission would give a region and a town with approved energy goals a say over where renewable energy plants should go, according to the draft recommendations.
The commission took some pains to explain that there are legitimate concerns expressed by Vermonters and towns about how the current energy siting process works.
The commission would recommend that the Vermont Public Service Department work with regions to design a road map to achieve the state’s energy goals.
And the commission would require greater notification to residents, towns and regions when electricity plant developers approach the state to discuss projects. The commission envisions “triggers” to prompt early notification.
The commission would also require the state’s utility regulators on the Vermont Public Service Board to do a better job of getting project documentation and details online in a timely fashion.
And the commission continues to promote a longer lead time for towns and regions to react to big projects before the applications go to the Public Service Board.