As the Senate considers a renewable energy bill, a freshman representative is ready and waiting with proposals she hopes could become amendments if it reaches her House committee.
Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, introduced five bills that would increase public notification requirements for proposed renewable energy projects and give communities the right to veto larger projects.
Gamache said she didn’t expect the bills would make it out of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, of which she is a member. But she hopes they might be incorporated into S.230, which seeks to give communities more say in where energy projects are built.
These bills represent her first pieces of legislation. She said she doesn’t consider human-caused climate change a threat but wants to accommodate the beliefs of others, as long as the process is fair.
“If you say it’ll help, I’ll go along with the program, as long as it’s something I don’t find offensive, and many people find industrial wind offensive,” Gamache said.
Many find solar somewhat less offensive, but residents often feel shut out of even solar siting proceedings to a degree that’s unacceptable, Gamache said. “Nobody likes to be told what to do,” she said. “I’m not trying to be an obstructionist. I’m trying to give people the opportunity to have input in the system.”
The bills – H.596, H.597, H.598, H.599 and H.762 – would collectively achieve two changes: greater public notice and greater local authority, Gamache said.
Specifically, they would require developers of renewable energy projects to provide public notice of their intentions at least three months before submitting an application to the state. Neighbors to the projects, and neighboring towns, would need to be apprised as well.
The bills would also give communities the authority to quash solar projects of more than 15 kilowatts and wind projects of more than 100 kilowatts. By way of comparison, each turbine at the Lowell Mountain wind facility is 3 megawatts.
Currently, the state’s Public Service Board alone carries the authority to allow or disallow renewable energy projects, and it decides based on whether each project is, on balance, in the public good.
The Senate bill would require the PSB to bow to communities’ wishes regarding the siting of renewable projects, as long as those wishes are spelled out in approved town and regional plans. Under that bill, the board could also make an exception if “clear and convincing” evidence shows the good of the state requires a project elsewhere.
The chairman of the House energy committee, Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said the substance of Gamache’s bills isn’t likely to get very far except in instances where similar provisions are already contained in S.230.
He argued that a recent Bennington case before the Public Service Board demonstrates the board already does heed local preferences on siting, as long as the town provides what the board called a “clear, written community standard intended to preserve the aesthetics or scenic beauty of the area.”
Many towns have failed to develop such a document, Klein said earlier this month. He said that towns, “in their haste to control things they didn’t like, passed plans that didn’t pass muster.”
Still, Klein said, his committee remains open to all reasonable suggestions. “If there are things that have been left out of (S.230) that clearly make sense, there’s no reason why we won’t entertain amending the bill,” he said.
But he said he draws the line where opponents of renewable energy attempt to “hide behind the process (in a way) that really means they’re trying to stop the process.”
“I think there are a lot of folks trying to make the process better, and I think there are a lot of folks trying to stop the process,” he added.
Gamache said many legislators share her mind-set, which is in favor of renewable energy as long as it’s done right.
“We have many people in the state who object to the size and type of renewables” that have been built in recent years, Gamache said, “but I haven’t had anybody say, ‘I don’t want anything to do with renewables.’”
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