Legislators are in talks to convene a special session next week should Gov. Peter Shumlin bring out his veto pen for a bill meant to give communities more oversight over the location of energy projects.
“We are still reviewing the bill,” said Shumlin spokesman Scott Coriell. “As you know, the chairs of the House and Senate energy committees have raised significant concerns about potential unintended effects of this bill. We are looking into those concerns now, and the governor will make a decision about how to proceed.”
In the weeks since the session ended, Shumlin has signed dozens of bills into law, but he has not acted on the siting bill, S.230. If he rejects it, the Legislature could reconvene to try to overcome the veto; that would occur June 9. Overriding a veto requires a two-thirds vote of the members present of each house.
“We have had a number of discussions about what would happen if there was a veto, ranging from an override to some legislative fixes that could be made,” said House Speaker Shap Smith, D-Morristown. “No specific course has been set yet.”
The siting bill passed on the last day of the session amid scrambling in a bicameral conference committee. A number of controversial provisions, which were added in the final hours of legislative bargaining, prompted a May veto threat from the governor.
Language causing the most concern for some legislators and Shumlin has to do with sound limits for wind turbines and the process by which they would be established.
Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said eleventh-hour additions to the bill in conference committee made it a very different piece of legislation from the one that passed the House unanimously in April.
“I don’t think anybody had any idea that no existing commercial wind project today could ever meet those sound requirements,” Klein said. “That’s the problem when you don’t have time to do research and collect testimony.”
Legislators pointed to other issues in the final bill, including the lack of a $300,000 funding mechanism for regional planning commissions tasked with drafting siting plans for renewable energy projects.
Klein said he and the Senate energy chairman, Chris Bray, D-New Haven, have identified a number of fixes that could be passed in a special session and sent back to the governor.
“We now need to figure out how that happens,” Klein said. “That’s not as easy as buttering a piece of toast, especially because at this moment you don’t even have any language that has been proposed by anybody that there’s universal agreement on.”
The generally uncontested provisions of the bill deal with the siting process, which gives towns and regions authority to write energy plans showing where they believe projects should and shouldn’t go.
If the Department of Public Service certifies these plans as compatible with state energy goals, renewable energy developers must 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’ approved energy plans “substantial deference” when weighing permit applications.
Energy siting was a hotly contested issue last session, and many community advocates felt the final siting bill doesn’t go far enough in curbing the power of energy companies to establish wind and solar farms.
Senate Minority Leader Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, who co-sponsored the bill, said he would support an override vote.
“If Shumlin goes to veto, my personal opinion is we should try to override him,” Benning said. “This is the first piece of legislation since I’ve been elected that attempts to give the people more say over what’s going on with their energy policy.”
Smith said he supports tweaks to clean up the bill but disagreed with Shumlin’s concerns over a requirement to fast-track rulemaking for sound requirements.
“I don’t think that the bill is as bad as the administration seems to think,” Smith said. “But they are a separate branch of government and get to do what they want.
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