RUTLAND, VT – Non-profit energy advocacy group Energize Vermont, along with neighbors of the Lowell wind project, announced they have appealed the Lowell wind project stormwater permits to the Vermont Supreme Court. The group originally appealed the permits to the Public Service Board (PSB) before construction began on the 21 turbine wind project in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.
The Lowell wind stormwater permit appeal was the first appeal of stormwater permits ever reviewed by the PSB. After taking more than a year to hear the case and render a decision, the PSB denied the appeal and affirmed the permits at the end of May, six months after the project was built and operating. All appeal documents have been filed with the Vermont Supreme Court, and oral arguments are expected to be scheduled.
At issue in this appeal is whether the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) has discretion to permit experimental stormwater treatment protocols (STPs) even if they fail to comply with the applicable regulations in the Vermont Stormwater Management Manual. The Lowell wind project uses experimental “level spreaders” to manage stormwater runoff from the site rather than stormwater retention ponds. Level spreaders have a history of failing on steep slopes and are not considered standard stormwater treatment protocols.
“It is clear from the PSB’s decision that they went through great legal calisthenics to avoid ruling that the use of experimental STPs does not comply with the existing regulations. The purpose of the existing regulations is to prevent stormwater runoff from degrading the pristine headwater streams on the mountain. The PSB decided that the ANR has ‘discretion’ to permit the experimental STPs even if the use of experimental STPs in these conditions is not authorized by the law,” said the group’s executive director Lukas Snelling.
For the use of experimental STPs such as level spreaders to be acceptable, the applicant must meet criteria set forth in the Vermont Stormwater Management Manual. In the case of the Lowell wind project, Green Mountain Power admitted the current stormwater treatment design does not meet the criteria, but claimed that ANR has discretion to ignore the regulations. Thus the Board’s decision has granted ANR a new ability to go outside existing regulations to permit experimental methods while ignoring their own written stormwater protection standards.
“With the latest PSB decision this case has gone beyond just high-elevation wind projects. Whether these new experimental controls are accepted or not, and whether ANR can wield this new found power, the PSB’s decision will impact all types of future development in the state of Vermont. Simply put, this case is about upholding our existing standards and not allowing ANR to arbitrarily chose which rules apply to individual situations,” continued Snelling.
Neighbor and appellant Mike Nelson lives near the project on the Albany side, “We remain deeply concerned that the PSB has attempted to make an exception to allow the building of renewable energy at any cost. We all support renewable energy, but it must be built in conformance with the existing standards intended to prevent stormwater pollution of our pristine streams. We cannot trade a wind project for our water quality. Our water is everything – our wells, our water supply for fire fighting, our high elevation streams, our wetlands, our rivers. We cannot let our water be compromised so Gaz Metro and their cronies can make a buck.”
Energize Vermont said they welcome other organizations concerned about water quality to weigh in on the case. The group indicated that traditional environmental organizations like CLF and VNRC would normally be defending Vermont’s high elevation water resources, but may be avoiding engaging on this case due to the implications for future ridgeline wind development.
“It seems some organizations are afraid to get involved in a case like this despite the threat to our water because it brings into question their commitment to industrial wind projects. We hope to see other groups engage and defend Vermont’s water in the future regardless of the type of development involved,” said Snelling.
He continued, “We must build renewable energy right. The State must not be allowed to keep making exceptions for their pet projects, especially when corporations that have failed to demonstrate a significant interest in being socially responsible and environmentally friendly in our communities are the primary beneficiaries.”
Energize Vermont was created to educate and advocate for establishing renewable energy solutions that are in harmony with the irreplaceable character of Vermont, and that contribute to the well-being of all her people. This mission is achieved by researching, collecting, and analyzing information from all sources; and disseminating it to the public, community leaders, legislators, media, and regulators for the purpose of ensuring informed decisions for long-term stewardship of our communities.
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