MONTPELIER, Vt. – It was supposed to give towns more say over where solar and wind projects go, but Vermont lawmakers and advocates say somehow the bill got off track. The governor vetoed it. Now, a special session Thursday is turning into a showdown between two political parties.
Republican lawmakers say they’re fed up with what they call the governor’s games when it comes to energy siting and they’re not having any part of it.
“You want us to say we’re the bad people but we’re not. The governor is vetoing this bill. We did our work on this bill. We will override it, but we’re not changing it,” said Rep. Don Turner, R-House Minority Leader.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers held dueling press conferences at the Statehouse Tuesday, staking out their positions for Thursday’s special session. Senate bill 230 was intended to allow towns to have a greater voice when it comes to solar and wind projects that come before the Public Service Board. But the governor pointed to four technical problems in the bill. Two of them deal with the touchy topic of wind turbine noise. He said an emergency rule-making process in the bill could be interpreted to declare a public health emergency around the effects of wind energy. He also faulted a temporary sound limit for turbines as too low.
The two Democratic committee leaders responsible for the bill say the mistakes are inadvertent and part of an 11th-hour effort to pass the bill– a bill that has very little to do with wind power in the first place.
“When you see the language changes that are made, you will see that is all that it does, and there is no reason in the world other than politics for this not to be a very, simple and quick session,” said Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier.
“We’re going to be back here anyway, while we’re here, let’s make the best use of that time in Montpelier together again and put the fix through,” said Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison County.
But some Republicans see the veto as a cynical effort by Gov. Peter Shumlin and some Democrats to ditch renewable siting reform and please green energy companies.
“This Legislature, this governor– if they were going to make any attempt to put stuff like this into law, it would have happened before now. This is just a way for them to stop it, and we’re not playing,” Turner said.
Democrats in the House are expected to muster the votes to sustain the governor’s veto, but without agreement from Republicans to change the rules, lawmakers won’t be able to pass a revised measure in the one-day session, effectively killing the bill.
Industrial wind opponents, who never felt the bill went far enough, say they’re frustrated with the whole process.
“It’s actually been deeply disturbing, which is why I’ve continued to be involved because it’s not something I can put aside,” said Shanna Ratner of Fairfield.
Supporters of siting reform say they’re also disappointed.
“We’re very concerned about that because we would lose a year and it’s a year in which there is a lot of activity. There’s a lot of a solar development, there are wind proposals out there,” said Karen Horn of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
A political stalemate where there just may be no winners.
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