Carol Irons, a 74-year old from Albany, can see the wind farm on Lowell Mountain from her home. She said the 21-turbine project, which was built in 2012, required clear-cutting, blasting and bulldozing.
“These things are not renewable. They are destructive,” Irons told a panel of lawmakers at a hearing on energy siting policy Tuesday night. “The [Public Service Board] approval process enables developers to do what they want, wherever they want. This appears to be the Public Service Board’s definition of public good.”
More than 150 people attended the Statehouse hearing, which was designed to help lawmakers draft policy to address a concern over the siting of a growing number of wind and solar farms in Vermont. Lawmakers say legislation is not expected until next year.
The amount of wind and solar energy generated in Vermont has increased tenfold from about 20 megawatts of capacity in 2010 to more than 200 megawatts either installed or permitted today, according to the Department of Public Service.
Some residents say these projects harm Vermont’s aesthetic character and towns. Others warned lawmakers not to slow progress on curbing greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change.
Kate Kroll, a 24 year-old from Burlington, said she came to Vermont from Pennsylvania, where she said the process of hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas is tearing apart her home state. She said while some Vermonters worry about having to look at solar form their backyards, her friends can’t drink their tap water.
“So, when I think about making the barriers to solar more difficult than they already are in Vermont, I feel very scared. We have to get our energy needs from somewhere,” Kroll said. “So, let’s make out backyards part of the solution and not the problem.”
Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chair of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said he has received up to 20 letters from constituents on the issue.
“I’ve had everything from ‘I don’t want to see any development in our county’ to ‘New Haven ought to be proud that it may be leading the state to the amount of renewable energy generated there,’” Bray said.
He said his committee will set up a working group over the summer to help inform legislation for next year. He said the study group will be included in the state’s renewable energy legislation, H.40, which will require utilities to sell power from more wind, solar and hydro.
“We are coupling the development of additional renewable energy with an assessment of can we do better,” Bray said.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said he will pass legislation out of the House this year to address siting. He said it may give towns with clear siting standards a stronger say in the location of projects. He also said it may include incentives to build projects in developed areas such as gravel pits and landfills.
“You want to create carrots for developers to go where you want them to develop and in the other areas there should be some adherence to real planning that isn’t developed just to shut down development,” he said.
Solar installers say there are already constraints on where projects can be located.
According to Duane Peterson, co-founder of Waterbury-based SunCommon, some projects can’t be installed on old roofs or in shaded areas. Other projects must be placed on flat, sunny areas near power lines without affecting wetlands and endangered species.
“It’s a long process,” Peterson said. “Town-by-town regulations, with hundreds of towns, would add to the challenge.”
Recent proposed solar projects have been located on wetlands and in forested areas, according to Billy Coster, senior planner and policy analyst for the Agency of Natural Resources.
“Wetlands are a feature of our landscape. And they often do come into play with these facilities. But typically folks have been able to modify their layouts and modify their proposals,” Coster said.