MONTPELIER – Critics of Vermont’s process for selecting sites for renewable energy projects say they’re unhappy with legislation working its way through the Senate that is designed to give towns and regional planning commissions greater say in where solar and wind power projects go.
About 60 members of the groups Energy Transformation Coalition and Energize Vermont gathered Tuesday for a press conference where leaders said Senate Bill 230 still gives the state Public Service Board too much ability to override the wishes of residents when approving renewable energy projects.
“Energy developers are running roughshod over our communities,” said Mark Whitworth, president of the board of Energize Vermont. “The result is an energy rebellion that has now spread to 128 towns.”
The press conference came as a bill retooling Vermont’s planning process for renewable energy projects is being readied for debate in the Senate, likely later this week or next. Among their complaints, critics say the Senate Natural Resources Committee rejected calls for tougher sound-testing standards to guard against worries that wind towers are disturbing their neighbors’ sleep and harming their health.
The groups also said they have asked the attorney general’s office to launch two investigations.
One would probe whether some energy marketers were violating the state’s consumer protection laws by promoting projects as providing renewable energy to Vermonters when their renewable attributes are being sold to out-of-state utilities through special certificates called renewable energy credits.
The other would investigate whether some elected officials’ decisions to back or oppose legislation were influenced by campaign contributions from renewable energy developers.
Former state Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Democrat who announced Tuesday he is running for governor and who spoke at the press conference, acknowledged that it would be difficult to determine if the campaign contributions influenced legislation or if contributors merely gave to elected officials who favor aggressive renewable energy development.
Attorney General William Sorrell said such claims of campaign contributions affecting officials’ policy decisions can be difficult to prove.
“You can make a lot of allegations, but there has to be a measure of proof that a campaign contribution motivated” official action. “It’s a pretty high bar,” said Sorrell, who has been under investigation for allegedly taking campaign cash illegally from a law firm hired by the state. Sorrell has denied any wrongdoing.
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