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Governor vetoes energy siting bill, S.230; Legislators, citizens, question veto

MONTPELIER – Gov. Peter Shumlin has vetoed S.230, a bill legislators had hoped would give more local voice to the siting of renewable energy projects in Vermont.

The Veto

In announcing his veto of the legislation on Monday, Shumlin was critical of what he called last-minute provisions added to the bill, which, he said, “…would have the effect of putting the brakes on progress and costing Vermonters jobs, two things I will not do.”

Shumlin said he stands “ready to work with the Legislature on a modified bill in the coming days…”

Shumlin’s statement emphasized that he opposed what he termed “unintended changes (which) were made at the last minute.”

Shumlin said there are issues in the bill which need fixing. Most of his concern focuses on changes in monitoring noise of wind power developments.

He stated “In setting a ceiling for new temporary wind sound standards, the bill unintentionally relies on a standard used in a small 150 kilowatt project as the standard for all wind, large and small, going forward.”

Shumlin’s statement went on, “That standard, a complex and variable formula that would require no sound higher than 10 decibels above ambient background, could have the clearly unintended effect of pushing wind projects closer to homes where the background noise is higher.”

He said he is optimistic that the issues he cited can be remedied by the Legislature in a veto session set for Thursday this week.

The Reaction

The veto of S.230 was drawing reaction across the state on Monday.

Paul Brouha, who lives in Sutton near the Sheffield wind project, has been telling state officials for years about the noise that has changed his family’s life, and has continued to fight for people’s rights near the projects.

“The Legislature passed S. 230 which was a compromise of marginal value arrived at in negotiations with the Governor,” said Brouha on Monday. “After the lobbyists saw it and didn’t like the wind energy provisions, the Governor moved the goal posts again to accommodate them. The Legislature should override his veto.”

The House and Senate both unanimously approved the bill.

Rep. Janssen Willhoit, R-St. Johnsbury, said on Monday, “Despite this overwhelming tripartisan recognition of the need for a local voice in this process, the governor threatened to veto the bill before we left this session unless the bill was watered down. Consequently, the final bill was a very modest attempt to restore some regional and local control of renewable energy projects and set commercial wind turbine noise standards.”

“Despite this compromise, the Governor appears primed to still veto this very sensible bill that protects the natural beauty of our state, and the liberty of communities to not have the use and enjoyment of their land bodies unduly disturbed,” stated Willhoit.

If given the chance, noted Willhoit, he will vote to override the veto.

“This veto is an assault to communities seeking meaningful protections from unwanted projects,” he stated.

Rep. Scott Beck, R-St. Johnsbury, said on Monday, “I think it’s disappointing that the governor vetoed it. I would vote to overturn it.”

“Everybody thought we had a deal, and here we are a month later and the governor is saying he doesn’t think this is good for the alternative energy industry, which tells me the alternative energy industry is the one pushing the show here,” said Beck.

The bill, Beck said, “gives local people a bigger say in where these things are placed and it puts a much lower decibel limit (especially for wind projects, which have been a significant concern in multiple Northeast Kingdom wind developments)…the decibel levels are really impacting people’s lives and home values and so this is trying to get some protection for those people.”

Judith Jackson, of Irasburg, who is running for the Legislature, said, “The action the legislators take could have a big effect on our town’s future. The siting bill as passed last month left much to be desired,” said Jackson. “However, it did give towns a somewhat greater voice in decisions about where developers can build projects like the 500-foot industrial wind towers that are threatened for Irasburg’s Kidder Hill. We hope legislators will step up and override Shumlin’s veto, to give Vermont towns at least some measure of control over how and where to site renewable energy projects.”

Senate President Pro Tempore, John Campbell, announced the Senate will return Thursday to address the veto.

“I believe this bill is of significant importance to the people of Vermont,” said Campbell in an email statement on Monday. “Its final fate deserves to be reviewed by the Legislature.”

A group of legislators is calling a press conference today at the Statehouse at 1 p.m. to support overriding the veto.

Caledonian-Record staff writer Taylor Reed contributed to this report.