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Residents protest energy approval methods

MONTPELIER – Vermonters are calling for a greater voice in the siting of renewable energy projects in their communities, and one Senate lawmaker is looking to ban industrial-scale wind projects altogether.

More than 100 people packed into the Cedar Creek Room at the State House on Wednesday to protest the method used by the state to approve renewable energy projects.

“Our energy-siting policies and processes have become anti-environmental and anti-democratic,” said Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, a remark that drew 20 seconds of applause from the gathered crowd.

Rodgers argued that renewable energy projects should be treated the same as any other form of development and should be subject to the provisions of Act 250, which includes a host of criteria such the overall impact a development would have to the aesthetics of the environment.

“The process we use to site energy in Vermont is broken and it’s long past time to fix it,” Rodgers said. “Today, all proposals regarding energy siting are made by developers and all decisions are made by the Public Service Board.”

Don Chioffi, a Rutland Town selectman, discussed the many hours he and his fellow board members put into a document to regulate how renewable energy would be sited in town, only to have that document ignored by the PSB.

“We want the lands of our state back, town by town,” Chioffi said. “We don’t want deference. We don’t want consideration. What we want is standing. We want local and regional planning documents to control land-use decisions within a municipality; no more, no less.”

Rachael and Alex Carr traveled from Swanton to voice their opposition to a proposed large wind project near their home.

“The wind turbines they are proposing are in our backyard, three miles from us. They’re closer to homes than ever before. They’re bigger than they’ve ever made them before,” Rachael Carr said.

“I think they just need to have some regulations on the size and where they put them, because there are a lot of people who are suffering that are not as close to them as the ones they are proposing,” she said.

To that end, Rodgers has introduced a bill that would ban industrial-scale wind projects.

The bill’s findings state, “Development of high-elevation, industrial wind is detrimental to the preservation of Vermont’s scenic resources and therefore to the State’s economic base. Such development is also detrimental to the conservation of important ecosystems and wildlife habitat.”

“It’s time that industrial wind goes the way of the billboard and is banned in Vermont,” Rodgers said.

Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Research Interest Group, said there is a difference between supporting renewable energy and the reality of what renewable energy entails.

“I think a lot of these folks just don’t like the fact they have to see renewable energy,” Burns said. “They might like it in concept, but as soon as they see a solar farm across the street or wind turbines on the horizon they’re against it.”

“I don’t think there’s a disagreement that local communities should have a greater voice in these projects,” Burns continued. “A lot of people in the building today would like to empower local communities to simply veto renewable energy projects. These are not decisions that should be made entirely at the local level.”