Regional planners should be armed with energy plans before developers propose new power projects in their communities, says Chris Recchia, commissioner of the Department of Public Service.
Senate lawmakers want to give landowners and residents a voice in the state’s process to approve energy projects, a process that has received heightened attention in the wake of recent industrial-scale wind development.
The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee heard testimony Tuesday on a bill, S.201, to give landowners and regional planners a clear chance to present their case before the quasi-judicial Public Service Board.
But these stakeholders should have a plan in place before energy developers arrive with proposals, Recchia said. This would allow developers to adjust their proposals to match the region’s energy development vision.
“If it’s the average citizen and the communities that we want to engage, then don’t throw them into the (Section) 248 process. Throw them into an opportunity to fully vet and analyze and understand a project before it goes to the 248 process,” he said.
The state’s regional planning commissions write coordinated development strategies for their regions, but many communities do not have regional energy plans, Recchia said.
“My hope would be that the regional planning commissions would be given some money and some time and some guidance on how to do that and integrate that into their plan so that the plans could be stronger in advance of getting a project proposed,” he said.
The committee bill includes a fee to apply for an energy production project. The fee, which tops out at $750,000, is designed to cover the state’s cost of reviewing the application.
Recchia played an active role in the Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission this summer. Gov. Peter Shumlin appointed the commission last year after the continued controversy over the development of several large-scale renewable energy generation facilities in the state.
The commission made several recommended changes to the board’s energy project review process, including an emphasis on local energy planning and the funding to develop these plans.
“This was the concept behind the siting commission, saying, ‘Add more time at the front end,’” Recchia said.
Property values examined
Wind projects have been mired by noise complaints and pushback from environmental conservationists in recent years. But Tuesday’s committee meeting raised the issue of property depreciation resulting from noise pollution as the driver to include adjacent property owners in the board’s review process.
Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham, a member of the committee, said the Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission did not make recommendations on how to compensate landowners for losses to their property values.
“Inevitably people are going to bear some of the burden,” he said. “I think we all accept that in our society, of course there are issues of where the public interest outweighs the private.”
Committee Chair Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, said the possible burden of these projects could spread statewide.
“I think it is a serious question that Sen. Galbraith is asking, because there have been property assessments reduced in Vermont because of these projects. And if that affects the education statewide property tax, then we are all paying for this. And most of us really don’t want to be,” Hartwell said.
Despite concerns from residents near the Georgia Mountain Wind Project, including some who say the project has depreciated the value of their homes, a 2014 report by the University of Connecticut and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found that wind development does not depreciate nearby property values.
The study analyzes 26 urban and rural sites across Massachusetts, including property values within a half-mile of wind turbines.
“Weak evidence suggests that the announcement of the wind facilities had a modest adverse impact on home prices,” the report’s summary states, “but those effects were no longer apparent after turbine construction and eventual operation commenced.”
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