MONTPELIER, Vt. – Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a renewable energy siting bill Monday in a move that the bill’s supporters are now decrying as a favor to wind energy developers.
Despite overwhelming support by the House and Senate, legislation to give communities a say on renewable siting and relief from wind turbine noise died at the hand of the governor’s veto pen. In a statement issued Monday, Shumlin said he was acting to protect wind energy developers.
“The emergency declaration and the restrictive sound standards will make it impossible to continue to sensibly site renewable wind power in Vermont,” Shumlin wrote in his veto message.
According to Shumlin, a provision on temporary wind sound standards “unintentionally invokes a provision in 3 V.S.A. 844(a) that would make Vermont the first state in the country to declare a public health emergency around wind energy.”
He also said the bill’s wind sound standard “unintentionally relies on a standard used in a small 150 kilowatt project as the standard for all wind, large and small, going forward.” Shumlin claims that formula inadvertently limits turbine noise to 10 decibels above ambient background noise.
The bill also lacks a $300,000 appropriation for new regional energy planning and requires notice of certificates of public good to be filed with land records, which, Shumlin said, could “create problems for residential solar customers when they go to sell their home.”
Supporters of the bill blasted Shumlin for protecting wind developers’ profits and rejecting Vermonters’ needs.
“The Governor once again has shown that he will choose his donors in the renewable energy business over Vermonters,” said House Minority Leader Don Turner, one of the 142 House lawmakers who unanimously voted for the bill.
House Republicans on Tuesday held a news conference at the Statehouse to urge House Speaker Shap Smith join them in an effort to override Shumlin’s veto. A statement released after the event refutes Shumlin’s claims about a provision that would declare a public health emergency around wind energy.
“Invoking this statute does not mean that S.230 declares sound from wind generation as an ‘imminent peril to public health, safety, or welfare.’ In fact, the Legislature commonly cites this statute to expedite the rule-making process, when the situation in question does not pose a public health hazard,” Turner wrote.
He added that Shumlin also “inaccurately asserts that the bill requires all wind projects to meet the ’10 dBA above ambient’ standard,” arguing that temporary rules for wind noise are not “one-size-fits-all,” but rather allow for a method of determining sound levels on a case-by-case basis.
Lawmakers are being called back the Statehouse for a Thursday session to either override the veto or amend the language of the bill. The session will cost taxpayers approximately $50,000.
Other voices have joined the chorus criticizing the governor’s move to protect wind developers.
“Observers reported that House Speaker Shap Smith, Representative Tony Klein, and Senator Christopher Bray had promised that no action would be taken on wind turbine noise during the session. It turned out that a Shumlin veto, justified by a handful of flimsy pretexts, was the only way to keep that promise,” said Mark Whitworth, board president of Energize Vermont, a group that advocates for small-scale renewable applications and opposes Big Wind and Solar.
Whitworth said the wind turbine noise standards would have mirrored those of states like New Hampshire and Maine, “which protect their citizens with strict turbine noise standards”
State Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, chair of the House Energy Committee, recently told Watchdog the sound decibel levels are essentially “like a moratorium” on new wind projects. He said he favors less restrictive standards that would still allow for some tangible industrial wind development while the Public Service Board is working on writing new statewide standards to take effect July 2017.
He also said he agrees with Shumlin’s view that the bill’s citation of 3 V.S.A. 844(a) essentially implies that current turbine noise is causing imminent and substantial damage to people’s health.
But fellow Democrat Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, told Watchdog that Klein, too, has been acting to protect corporations.
“The whole reason we have the language (pertaining to wind decibel limits) that we have now is because Tony didn’t like the language that the House passed, and then the wind industry got a hold of him and told him they didn’t like it,” Rodgers said.
Rodgers added that Shumlin’s veto “shows that he is more interested in taking care of the wealthy developers and the industry than he is taking care of Vermonters.”
Republican gubernatorial candidate Bruce Lisman echoed Rodgers’ views, and even called for a halt on new industrial wind.
“While I continue to strongly believe that Vermont should establish a two-year moratorium on industrial scale wind and solar projects, S. 230 is a small step in the right direction. We need to improve the process for approving and siting large renewable energy installations,” Lisman said.
According to reporting by Associated Press reporter Dave Gram, the veto session on Thursday limits lawmakers to overriding the governor’s veto or allowing it to stand. Any attempt to change the bill would require a complex series of two-thirds vote suspensions of Senate and House rules. If lawmakers don’t override the veto, S.230 will not become law.
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