- National Wind Watch: Wind Energy News - https://www.wind-watch.org/news -

Renewable energy siting bill passes despite end of session wrangling

Lawmakers passed a bill Friday that supporters say will give Vermont’s towns and regions more control over where renewable-energy projects get sited.

Legislators adopted the bill following last-minute sleights including what some of them described as a veto threat from the governor.

Language causing legislators the greatest angst concerned sound limits for wind turbines, and the process by which they would be established.

Disagreements over that provision’s particulars led to a last-ditch compromise in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee room Friday afternoon, where observers thronged the room and spilled into the hallway.

The bill halts wind turbine approvals for 45 days, to give the Public Service Board time to draft provisional sound standards that will apply through July 2017, the date by which the board must have adopted permanent rules on sound the structures produce.

Those rules must allow sound from the turbines at levels no greater than the most restrictive permit the Public Service Board has yet granted.

Many who oppose wind farms say the sound standard is the best part of the bill, and complain that the bill’s planning section doesn’t give municipalities enough discretion over where developers and landowners choose to build solar and wind projects.

Renewable advocates have generally supported the bill, although earlier versions worried some that the bill would establish a de facto moratorium on wind development for at least a year.

The legislation gives towns and regions authority to write energy plans. If the Department of Public Service certifies these plans as compatible with state energy goals, renewable energy developers must then abide by the town’s wishes unless “clear and convincing” evidence shows that the good of the state necessitates otherwise. Under S.230, the Public Service Board must afford towns with approved energy plans “substantial deference.”

Only state-certified plans would be afforded such deference by the Public Service Board, and some legislators worry that only those plans will get approved that carry out what the state would have required of towns even without the bill.