IRASBURG – Driven by opposition to industrial wind turbines on Kidder Hill, the Irasburg planning commission is entering the homestretch in the race to develop an interim town plan to sway state utility regulators.
The draft of the interim town plan that will address wind and other renewable energy projects will go before the select board June 14 for a hearing and possible approval.
“We feel somewhat vulnerable without something,” said Judith Jackson, chairwoman of the planning commission that has worked since October on a first-ever town plan. They held a commission meeting Thursday evening to go over the draft before the select board review.
The interim plan reflects the regional plan, which says that the Northeast Kingdom already has more large renewable energy projects than the grid can accommodate and says that the NEK does not want more industrial wind turbines on ridgelines for that and other reasons.
The Irasburg interim plan points out that there is a former landfill and several played-out gravel pits suitable for various sized solar projects.
There’s uncertainty whether the interim plan and the regional plan would meet guidelines that have yet to be set under recently adopted renewable energy bill S.230.
And no one knows how an investigation will turn out by the Vermont Public Service Board about a wind test tower that didn’t receive state permission. Developer and Kidder Hill property owner David Blittersdorf did not apply for a certificate of public good for the wind test tower, which would have given Irasburg a lot of lead time to develop the town plan.
That investigation is in the negotiation stages among Blittersdorf, Irasburg representative Dr. Ron Holland and other state agencies.
“How it will play out is not entirely clear,” Jackson said.
But Irasburg is moving ahead anyway, on the belief that the town plan will be good enough to earn the town deferential treatment when the Public Service Board considers Kidder Hill wind or other large energy projects in Irasburg.
“All of us need to make sure we have the very best planning documents in hand,” she said.
Irasburg has always been proud that it does not have zoning. But the lack of a town plan that addresses renewable energy would put the town at a disadvantage if Blittersdorf does decide to erect two industrial-grade turbines on his Kidder Hill property.
Ever since the news about his plans broke, town leaders have been moving as fast as possible to get a say in the regulatory process.
“We do feel like we are under the gun,” she added.
The town held a vote that showed overwhelming opposition to industrial-grade wind turbines on the town’s ridgelines.
But Jackson said that the vote is not really enough to sway the Vermont Public Service Board when it considers large wind projects.
The planning commission began the effort to craft a town plan that would address the kind of land use issues that have become important in renewable energy planning.
The commission is using the relevant chapters in the regional plan involving renewable energy, natural resources and land use to develop an interim plan on those issues. The Northeastern Vermont Development Association, which is the regional commission, developed that regional plan and has worked with Irasburg to adapt the language for the municipality.
State statutes say that a town can have an interim plan in place while still working on the other chapters.
And the state allows towns to develop a town plan for overall growth but not require that town to add zoning. Jackson said that’s an important issue in Irasburg.
The goal of the interim town plan is to take industrial wind turbines off the table, Jackson said. The rest of the plan talks about projects needing to respect the environment, create a sound economy and have regard for community values.
“We certainly feel there are plenty of opportunities to generate significant renewable projects other than ways that will disfigure our ridgelines,” Jackson said.
Language in the introduction to the interim plan cites the town’s history and its welcome to renewable energy, but not to industrial wind projects or poorly placed large solar projects.
The June 14 hearing will be the second hearing about the draft interim plan by the select board. The hearing will come right after the 6 p.m. town vote to elect a third select board member, Jackson said.
The select board could vote to adopt the interim plan, as long as the vote is warned in advance, she added.
The planning commission expects to finish work on the entire town plan by the fall.
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