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Phil Scott and the end of turbines on state’s ridgelines?

One of Gov. elect Phil Scott’s most vocal constituencies is the anti-wind coalition and he intends to heed their fondest wish by pursuing a moratorium on large-scale industrial wind turbines proposed for the state’s ridgelines.

Mr. Scott recognizes the improbability the Legislature would agree with his proposal, having passed legislation last session that gave communities a greater say in where large-scale renewable energy projects should be placed. But it’s his intention to give the effort a profile high enough to make a difference.

If you were a developer interested in putting 500-foot turbines on any ridgeline in Vermont, you might consider another state.

Mr. Scott has more than a moratorium in his anti-wind quiver. The term of James Volz, chairman of the three-person Public Service Board, ends in February and Mr. Scott will appoint his replacement. The governor-elect will also announce his choice as commissioner of the Department of Public Service – the last major department choice remaining.

Both choices could change how wind projects are perceived.

Mr. Scott’s choice for the commissioner’s position [to replace Chris Recchia] is straight-forward. It’s the governor’s choice and given the liberal reputation of Mr. Recchia, the chances are obviously overwhelming his replacement will be more conservative. That, by its lonesome, doesn’t mean the commissioner will have a dimmer view of ridgeline development, but it’s a given that it would be an item of discussion as Mr. Scott interviewed those interested in the position.

Filling Mr. Votz’s position can have the same political cast, but the process is more formal. As with judges, it’s the responsibility of the Judicial Nominating Board to put forward a list of names from which the governor may choose. Whomever the governor selects has to be confirmed by the Senate.

But generally speaking, the Senate defers to the governor and unless Mr. Scott were to pick someone obviously unqualified or publicly biased, his choice would be approved.

That gives Mr. Scott the opportunity to select someone who feels as he does about the future of the state’s energy policy and how wind turbines on ridgelines don’t fit.

Anyone applying for the position is smart enough to be able to read between the lines. In other words, wind power advocates need not apply. The “opportunities” for Mr. Scott extend beyond the replacements for Mr. Volz and Mr. Recchia. The incoming governor also gets to put in place his vision as to what the state’s energy policy should include. As governor he can instruct his forces to articulate the belief that wind power is not the state’s preferred choice and that, cost-wise, it doesn’t fit with the state’s needs.

That alone would require the department and the board to consider the governor’s words in any decision made. That may not be the nail in the coffin for wind power, but it would be the knock on the door that would be hard to ignore.

It’s also important to recognize that the debate over placing wind turbines on ridgelines is a tiny part of the work before the department or the board. There are only a handful of projects that are applicable – Swanton Wind being one of them. Opponents to these developments have been incredibly effective in dominating the debate, raising the profile almost to the level of the ridgelines themselves.

That’s why Mr. Scott is responding the way he is responding.

That can’t be lost on wind farm developers. Vermont is not hospitable to such proposals – the failure of the 24-turbine Iberdrola project in southern Vermont in November being the most recent failure. Whereas a moratorium, limited or not, would obviously make things even more difficult for developers, it’s not the only tool the governor has.

We may be witnessing the last gasps of the wind power movement in Vermont, or at least for as long as Mr. Scott is governor.

by Emerson Lynn