Vermont Electric Cooperative should help municipalities in its territory deal with an increasing wave of new renewable energy projects, says a member of the co-op board of directors.
The goal, said District 3 director Carol Maroni of Craftsbury, is for VEC to work toward the state goal of more renewable energy sources while still respecting the impact on communities.
“I feel VEC has a huge responsibility,” Maroni said, to help communities deal with what they are facing.
VEC has taken positions in the past in reaction to the pressure for renewable energy projects that had potential to harm members, said CEO Christine Hallquist. In 2011, the board called for a moratorium on renewable projects until the Legislature addressed siting concerns.
The discussion is occurring during a primary campaign where four of the five top candidates for governor have said they oppose or have concerns about industrial grade wind projects. Last week, Democrat Matt Dunne said towns should be able to say no to big wind projects. Republicans Bruce Lisman and Phil Scott and Democrat Peter Galbraith oppose big wind projects.
And the Legislature has passed a siting law that gives towns a chance to influence siting by regulators.
Maroni said that the VEC committee will have to look at the resolution in light of the new law and the election.
Maroni, who opposed industrial wind projects, wants the VEC board to do more now. She serves the District 3 towns of Albany, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro, Irasburg, Jay, Lowell, Newport Town, Troy and Westfield, most of which are within view of or not far from the Lowell wind project.
VEC territory runs across northern Vermont, including Lowell, Sheffield and Georgia Mountain wind projects along with others proposed in Irasburg and Holland.
In January, Maroni presented a resolution to the board of directors that says VEC should urge renewable energy developers to honor town votes on energy projects, responsive to community concerns about siting, and to consult with local government officials before applying for permits from state utility regulators on the Public Service Board.
In the resolution, she included language that states:
“Whereas a growing number of VEC membership towns have experienced poor treatment by energy developers resulting in an uprising of dissent.”
The resolution also notes that the state needs the support of every town to achieve its energy goals of relying on 90 percent renewables by 2050.
The resolution was intended to focus on siting issues, but it brought up other concerns when it first went to the board, with some members saying it needed more discussion before it could be voted on, Maroni said in an interview.
She said it was clear that the resolution would not pass as proposed, so she withdrew it and it has gone to a subcommittee of the board which Maroni chairs for review.
Hallquist said the election will be a big factor. In the meantime, the co-op has helped regional planning commissions develop plans that address renewable energy siting.
Maroni wants the co-op to support renewable energy but also wants the co-op to tell developers to work cooperatively with communities in the co-op territory.
Maroni would like to see a ban on industrial wind projects to provide time to study the noise impacts on human health.
Dealing with a resolution like this is a challenge, said George Lague of Derby, who is one of two directors east zone at large directors on the co-op board.
Lague said Maroni brought the resolution directly to the board without having a committee to review it, which “blindsided” the board.
Her proposal “needs some more meat on the bones” to explain what the co-op board would be doing if it voted on such a resolution, Lague said. He has concerns because he doesn’t know how VEC should react when some communities favor renewable projects and some oppose them.
Lague has his own opinion about the Lowell wind turbines, which he heard making “annoying” noise during heavy snow while he was hunting on the mountain and then shared with the VEC board.
He would not want to live near them, and he doesn’t like the fact that they and other renewable energy sources cost more than market price but the co-op is required to buy it.
Both he and Maroni are concerned about commercial developers who are creating net-metered solar projects that take advantage of state policies that were intended to encourage small community or member projects.
“That’s unfair,” Lague said.
Maroni opposed the Lowell wind project in 2011 when she ran for and was elected to the board when VEC members voted by a five-to-one margin to pay for the construction of a power line to serve the Lowell wind project.
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