December 14, 2015
Letters, Vermont

How the Public Service Board is not a public process for Vermont

How Public Service Board is not a public process for Vt. | Saint Albans Messenger: December 9,2015 via

Swanton Wind is a seven 499 foot wind turbine proposal for Swanton Vermont. These turbines would be the tallest in Vermont, on a very low ridgeline with homes as close as 2,000 feet (closest in the state). The developers (Swanton Wind, LLC) have not filed for their Certificate of Public Good yet, but they have filed their 45-day notice. As concerned neighbors, we are being told by those in Montpelier (Department of Public Service, the Governor, etc) to wait for the application to be filed, stop worrying about it now. But, the developer is busy lining up all his ducks for this project and with prior projects, once the developer files for their CPG permit with the Public Service Board; it is in the bag for them.

We are not willing to let that happen.

The developers say that we are moving too fast and we are uneducated. The developers have been working on this project for quite some time now.

They put up a wind measurement tower in 2012 without the necessary permit. They had interactions with the FAA in 2012. They had conversations with the Agency of Natural Resources in September of 2014. More discussions with ANR are scheduled for this December. Nobody else is involved in these discussions – just the developer greasing the skids with various Vermont agencies. We are now catching up and educating ourselves.

The developer held an informational meeting and has met with a couple of the local towns. Ask any of the people who attended those meetings – and there were plenty of them – we have come away every time without any solid answers. The citizens have done their research and are asking very good questions, but the developer is not providing any answers.

Again, they keep saying wait, wait. It is too early to answer the questions. What do they want us to wait for? Until they apply for their permit and slide it through the process?

The Public Service Board really should remove Public from its name. It is not a Public process in any way. All the talk is lawyer speak and citizens are virtually ignored. Here are two examples of how the PSB responds to complaints:

In Winhall, a woman is complaining about the excessive noise from construction of a solar project. The project is grinding stumps 100 feet from her property starting at 6:30am and continuing past dark for seven days a week. She notifies the PSB of her issue on November 12th. On November 18th, the PSB issues an order that allows for comments on the complaint through November 24th. There is no indication of when anything will be ruled on for the complaint, but almost two weeks will have gone by before there is any chance for relief.

On July 3, 2012, neighbors of the Georgia Mountain Wind project complained about the conduct of the blasting occurring for the project. On August 24th, the board finally determined that the blasting had occurred in violation of the CPG agreement and ordered a halt to the blasting. Surprise, surprise, the blasting was all done at that point.

This is why we never, ever want to get to this point with this project.

Then, after a project goes in, what happens if you have an issue? Well, if you can get DPS to conduct sound monitoring, you have to wait over one year to get the results from that monitoring. Or, if you make a complaint in mid-September, you have to wait until the last day of November just to get a pre-hearing. People are waiting years (yes, years!) for the PSB to respond to noise complaints from renewable energy projects.

What does the state need to do to put some Public into the Public Service Board and Department of Public Service? For starters, create an intervenor’s fund for each project brought before the PSB. This fund would allow for the people affected by the project to be able to hire their own experts. If the developer is going to spend up to $1.5 million on permitting, the process should not be completely one-sided. The developer is the one who will be making all the money if the project goes in. The neighbors have all the downsides and will not benefit at all – if anything, they will lose property value and potentially health.

Another important step for the public is to create a position for an independent Counsel for the Public. Since the Department of Public Service’s Office of Public Advocacy works directly for the governor, that position does not suffice in these cases. Instead, the public needs an independent advocate.

The Public Service Board needs to work with the towns and listen to what the towns have to say. Towns have a right to be a party to the Public Service Board process, but again it comes down to money. None of the towns in Vermont have funds available to them to be able to hire lawyers and experts and perform studies that are needed in this process. So, the town is not able to contribute to the process at the same level as the developer. The developer funds should cover studies done by the towns.

What else needs to be done? There needs to be a more immediate response to complaints. No more dragging out replies to issues for weeks, months and years. This simply allows the developer to continue bad practices. Even a finding of a violation has so far resulted in no relief.

The process is badly broken right now and there are Vermonters all around the state dealing with it at different stages. You can’t even imagine how bad the process is unless you are thrown into it. The process needs to be fixed before any more Vermonters are forced into it.

Christine Lang

URL to article: