Senate lawmakers are concerned that a bill designed to give towns more say in the location of solar projects may prevent the state from moving towards its renewable energy goals.
At a Senate Democratic caucus Tuesday, lawmakers discussed a committee bill, S.191, which would require state regulators to uphold town energy plans when deciding whether to approve energy projects.
The bill comes after towns raised concerns over the rapid growth of the solar industry’s expansion into rural areas of the state.
Renewable energy advocates who oppose the bill say it could prevent the state from moving toward its energy goal to source 90 percent of its power from renewables by 2050, as described in the state’s comprehensive energy plan.
The bill will be taken up by the full Senate Wednesday, but some lawmakers are concerned about what the new rules could mean for the state’s energy goals.
“My fear is that we are chipping away at the public good theory when it comes to utilities and also undermining our ability to comply with our comprehensive energy plan and move toward renewables,” said Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D/W-Washington, at the Senate Democratic caucus meeting Tuesday.
“We may be setting standards for solar installations – even relatively small ones – that is harder or tougher than it would be for an ugly hotel,” he said.
The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee voted unanimously to support the bill last week after hearing testimony from residents and town officials in Rutland and Charlotte who are concerned about the recent growth of the solar industry and its impact on the aesthetics of their towns.
The quasi-judicial Public Service Board reviews energy generation projects through the Section 248 process. This process is guided in part by the state’s renewable energy goals and towns must intervene in the process to voice their concerns.
Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, supports the bill and says she recognizes the complexity of balancing statewide energy goals with local control.
“This legislation is a response to towns that felt that their screening and setback requirements were not honored in the PSB process. Therefore, it gives their screening and setbacks jurisdiction in the Public Service Board process,” she told Senate Democrats Tuesday.
Snelling said the committee is trying to balance decades of land use planning with the rapid growth of the solar industry (and other renewable energy projects) to supports the state’s clean energy goals. “How do we have those coexist in a way where we honor both local planning and the PSB process in balance?” she said.
Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, chair of Senate Natural Resources said the bill is not designed to “zone out” solar projects from towns. He said the committee’s intent is to require the board to consider local setback and screening bylaws in the review process for all energy projects.
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