MONTPELIER – A joint committee of the Vermont House and Senate grappled Wednesday with the question of how to balance the state’s need for renewable energy with local residents’ concerns about the noise from wind turbines, the smoke from woodchip-burning power plants and other annoyances.
Some committee members expressed disappointment with the recommendations of the Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission, which Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed last year after complaints that the state had not adapted well to the plethora of new wind-powered, biomass, solar and other renewable energy generating facilities. Critics charged that the state Public Service Board, which reviews utility projects, was not doing enough to welcome towns and residents into the review process.
The commission released its findings earlier this year.
At the Wednesday hearing of the House and Senate Natural Resources and Energy committees, lawmakers focused on how best to balance the concerns of residents who live near energy projects versus the needs of the state as a whole for energy.
Sen. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington and chairman of the Senate panel, cited the example of a man who told him he was trying to establish an organic vegetable farm in Addison County between a Vermont Electric Power Co. high-voltage power line and the route of a natural gas pipeline Vermont Gas Systems is proposing.
Like many property owners affected by such projects but who can’t afford to hire lawyers to represent them before the state Public Service Board, Hartwell said, the man he spoke with was “just hanging out there … He’s nowhere” in terms of having an adequate voice in the process.
Hartwell later said he thought the commission’s recommendations would still leave Montpelier with too much control of the energy planning process and too little room for participation from towns and regional planning commissions. He said another hearing has been set for Oct. 30, and he expects legislation will be drafted that deals with the issues when the full Legislature reconvenes in January.
Chris Recchia, commissioner of the state Public Service Department, which makes recommendations on projects to the board, said that he had visited with residents who had complained about some projects but found instances in which the “credibility, data, actual evidence supporting a petition aren’t there.”
The commission acknowledged in a report presented to lawmakers that work remains to restore public confidence in the project-approval process. Small towns and community groups often feel outgunned by developers, the report said. Some residents feel they lack “sufficient time, guidance and resources to adequately plan for or respond to projects proposed for their communities.”
Matt Levin, a lobbyist with the group Vermonters for a Clean Environment, said the recommendations to the board came up short in three respects: they failed to make sufficient use of a Vermont development control law; the process they envision gives too much control to the state; and they do not adequately address problems with existing projects.
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