The House has advanced legislation that’s designed to give towns a greater role in determining where renewable energy projects are sited.
The House supported the bill by a unanimous vote Tuesday.
Over the past decade, House Natural Resources chairman Tony Klein has been a strong supporter of expanding renewable energy projects throughout the state. He says the growth of these projects has far exceeded his expectations.
During this time period, individual towns had a limited ability to influence the siting of these projects when the proposals came before the Vermont Public Service Board for review.
Klein now believes that towns should be given greater authority to determine if the project is in the best interests of the community.
“They need to have a say in where the generation of the future is going to be put in Vermont,” said Klein. “That’s what this bill does it gives the towns exactly what they’ve been asking for.”
Klein says the way the bill gives towns that authority is through a legal concept known as “substantial deference.”
Klein says towns are encouraged to develop local plans that address the siting of solar or wind projects in their communities. He says towns can’t simply ban all of these projects, but can limit them to specific areas.
Klein says providing towns with “substantial deference” as part of the Public Service Board review is very important.
“Because it means that the burden of proof is not on the town in a project that’s going in their place,” Klein said. “The burden of proof is now on the project to prove how they fit into the town plan if the town plan has done its homework.”
The House bill includes a key provision that is not included in the Senate’s legislation.
It calls on the Public Service Board to adopt rules to establish acceptable “sound” levels that can be generated by wind turbines.
Klein says it could take the PSB a year and a half to develop these rules and he says no wind projects can be approved until these new standards are in place.
“If the outcome is it’s built under standards that everybody now accepts and understands,” said Klein, “Everybody may not like them but they know that the process was the correct process and they’re going to have to live with it. Then the future is much better.”
Under the legislation, the new sound levels will not be applied retroactively and will only apply to new wind projects that come before the Public Service Board.
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