MONTPELIER, Vt. – Priority legislation passed by the Senate to address Vermont’s renewable siting problems is facing serious headwinds in the House.
After receiving dozens of hours of development and revision in Senate committees and on the floor, the ever-changing energy siting bill, S.230, appears to be faltering in the House Energy Committee.
“As this goes on I’m getting more concerned that we are running out of time, and I don’t want to force something through that is not complete,” said state Rep. Michael Hebert, R-Vernon.
“That’s what I’m starting to feel here. We’re not going to be able to give this due consideration for all the ramifications that are in here.”
During a meeting of the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy on Wednesday, Hebert asked Public Service Department Deputy Commissioner Jonathan Copans if his department had other ways to improve siting discussions with towns without S.230.
“I would say on the regional level, absolutely, because we are doing it,” Copans said. “To a large degree these guidelines we have started … are embedded in our contracts with the (regional planning commissions). … And if that is all that exists at the end of the day, then I would encourage towns really to engage with their RPCs as they go through the process.”
Hebert continued to express doubts about the bill’s fate.
“This is a very complicated bill with a lot of problems in it. The more we go on, the more complicated it seems. I’m not sure that I want to see this go forward,” he said.
Copans has his own problems with the bill. One provision added on the Senate floor would require that towns automatically be given greater deference in their siting preferences until March 1. Initially, the bill required municipalities to update town plans before gaining increased standing in the Public Service Board process.
“We feel like that undermines the whole planning process,” Copans said. “It will be like you have one standard before the board, and then if you don’t have an approved plan, you’ll lose that. It really creates inconsistency and perhaps mismatched expectations from municipalities as they proceed.”
Last week, while going through an initial review of the bill, House Energy Committee Chair Anthony Klein, D-East Montpelier, instructed colleagues to avoid adding any amendments similar to ones already rejected by the Senate. Initiatives voted down in the Senate include standards for decibel levels produced by industrial wind turbines. Another was to have developers, not ratepayers, provide $300,000 to help towns participate in the PSB process.
State Rep. Marianna Gamache, R-Swanton, said she wants the right bill or no bill. She suggested that towns be allowed to say no to a specific type of project, such as utility scale wind turbines or solar arrays, if they could meet alternative energy goals through other options. Copans said towns choosing that option would forfeit their ability to have deference from the PSB.
Gamache told Vermont Watchdog she would not support the bill as it now stands. She said while the language goes to great lengths to encourage consideration of town plans, the final decision on projects is still in the hands of the PSB.
Rep. Michael Yantachka, D-Charlotte, said if S.230 is approved in committee, it still might not survive.
“We should work to get something for the towns,” he said. “It’s probably not going to be the bill the Senate passed. It may or may not get accepted once they review the changes.”
Committee Vice-Chair Rep. Kesha Ram, D-Burlington, expressed hopes that the bill might pass this session. However, she also has concerns. She said farmers wanting to make additional money by siting projects on their land could be hindered by standards in the current version of the legislation.
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