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We need to add “public” to state and local boards

Swanton Wind is a seven, 499-foot, wind turbine proposal for Swanton. 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 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 6:30 am and continuing past dark for seven days a week. She notifies the PSB of her issue on November 12. On November 18, the PSB issues an order that allows for comments on the complaint through November 24. 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 24, 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 the people affected by the project to hire their own experts.

Another important step for the public is to create a position for an independent counsel for the public. 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. 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. 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.

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