MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) – The governor-elect is firmly opposed to new mountaintop turbines. Two towns have voted against a big wind project. A landowner is in the regulatory crosshairs for putting up a wind speed testing tower without the required permit
In Vermont, an ill wind blows for a once promising source of renewable energy.
Republican Gov.-elect Phil Scott was clear during the campaign: He wants to halt further development of wind turbine towers on Vermont’s widely beloved mountain ridges.
“I think my No. 1 concern is that it’s dividing Vermont. I’m looking for opportunities for us to come together, rather than dividing us any further,” Scott told The Associated Press in an interview last month.
He saw it up close and personal last winter and spring, when large-scale wind power opponents haunted Statehouse hallways and committee rooms, where lawmakers were working on a rewrite of the state’s energy siting standards. The opponents wore bright lime-green safety vests and so made themselves stand out among the lawmakers, staff, lobbyists and reporters who crowded the building.
Asked recently if his opposition might have helped in his nearly 9 percentage point defeat of Democrat Sue Minter on Tuesday, Scott said it likely had had an effect in rural parts of the state where wind power projects have been proposed or built. “I think every vote counted,” he said with a smile.
Christopher Recchia said his department would continue to work to implement the energy-related legislation – now law – that drew the green-vested activists to the Statehouse. Recchia served as commissioner of the Public Service Department under outgoing Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin, a strong supporter of wind and other renewable energy,
The law called for municipalities and regions to step up local and regional energy planning and be rewarded with a greater say in energy siting decisions made by the state’s utility-regulating Public Service Board. One piece of continuity pointed to by Recchia: Scott has expressed support for an overall goal set in state law calling for Vermont to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.
As the statewide picture grew cloudy for wind, it got even cloudier in one local area: Voters in Windham and Grafton in southern Vermont easily voted down a 24-turbine wind power project proposed by a subsidiary of Spanish energy giant Iberdrola for a ridgeline between the two towns.
Company spokesman Paul Copleman indicated after the vote it may be a while before the company is knocking on Vermont’s door again.
“We’re always looking at good opportunities for new projects. At the moment, there is nothing in the pipeline in Vermont,” he said.
Meanwhile, in the state’s northwest corner, a landowner whose property would be home to the proposed Swanton Wind project has been told he could be penalized for putting up a wind speed testing tower without first getting the Public Service Board’s approval.
Swanton Wind is moving forward with its project. It’s on lower elevation that is already party of a working landscape that has a history of logging and extensive maple sugar operations, said Anthony Iarrapino, an attorney for the project’s developer Belisle.
“It’s a project that has been designed to meet or exceed Vermont’s rigorous permitting standards,” he said. “Because the project is in the Belisle’s own backyard they are committed to protecting the environment, protecting public health and contributing to Vermont’s clean energy economy and the effort to reduce climate change.”
Annette Smith, of Danby, a longtime critic of Vermont’s permissiveness on large-scale wind projects, said she was feeling relief about the coming change in state administrations.
“We have a new chance to show respect to our communities and protect our environment and do energy in a much more sane and rational way,” she said.
Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of the industry group Renewable Energy Vermont, said her group would continue to look for opportunities to expand the footprint of wind, solar and other types of renewable energy in the state.
“It’s really just that we need to continue to have a dialogue with each other about how we are going to become independent form dirty fossil fuels,” she said. “Wind is part of the answer to that great challenge.”
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