BENNINGTON – Bennington County Regional Commission representatives have approved a comprehensive energy plan for the county’s 13 towns and 3 villages in the region.
James Sullivan, the BCRC executive director, said 16 of the commission reps had voted as of Thursday to adopt the 161-page plan, enough to pass the official approval threshold. All of those who cast votes were in favor, he said.
A draft of the plan was released in November, and two hearings – one in Manchester in December and a second last week at BCRC offices in Bennington – were held to gather input and comment.
The next step, Sullivan said, is to submit the plan to the state Department of Public Service to determine whether it meets requirements of the Act 174 planning process, which provides a mechanism for review and approval of both regional and local energy plans.
Once adopted, the regional plan will allow communities consideration during state Public Service Board hearings on the siting of energy facilities, such as solar, wind or hydro projects. Developers also can expect a financial incentive on the sale of power produced by those or other generating facilities if they locate in an area designated as preferred for such projects.
Sullivan said some of the comments received referred to maps included in the energy plan, which designate the preferred locations for siting energy generation facilities, which were further refined during the hearing process. Adoption of a town energy plan could allow for more specific detail and “substantial deference” on where facilities can be sited, but, as with the regional plan, the provisions must not be in conflict with state facility siting regulations.
The Legislature sought in Act 174 to address concern that communities had too little say over the location of energy projects, while also continuing to allow the PSB to overrule blanket type local opposition to local projects that would be of benefit regionwide or statewide.
The region’s plan includes data on current energy use and sources, projections of future use, and strategies to support the state’s goals for reducing consumption and shifting more toward renewable energy production. At least two communities, Bennington and Dorset, are pursuing creation of a more specific town energy plan. Once the regional plan is approved by the state, the BCRC will be able to undertake the initial review of town energy plans.
The report contains maps illustrating what were determined to be the most and least acceptable areas in the county for the location of solar, wind, hydro, and other energy generating facilities. Among the factors considered were access to sufficient light for solar or wind for wind facilities. The solar locations are shown on maps primarily in valley regions, while the wind sites are located along mountain ridges.
Also considered in the mapping were access to electricity transmission lines, whether a site was located in a wetlands or conservation area or on state or national forest land; whether historical sites or other features might be negatively impacted and other factors. Concerning potential wind sites, a one-kilometer buffer zone was added from residences.
The plan was prepared in partnership with the Energy Action Network, the Public Service Department, Vermont Energy Investment Corp., and with support from such entities as Green Mountain Power, the Vermont Natural Resources Council, and the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association, along with state Agriculture, Commerce and Community Development, Transportation, and Natural Resources officials.
The regional plan is one of the first three completed under provisions of Act 174 with funding help from the state Department of Public Service. The other two are for the Northwest Regional Regional Commission and the Two Rivers-Ottaquechee Regional Commission.
Graphs, charts and other data in the plan relates to current energy use and to what might be required to meet the state’s energy use goals for 2050, which include receiving 90 percent of energy used from renewable resources and a one third reduction in overall energy consumption.
That would be achieved through weatherization projects, equipment and vehicle upgrades, greater reliance on more efficient transportation alternatives and other strategies. Energy use for Bennington County costs about $150 million per year. Of that, 39 percent of the total goes for transportation, 32 percent for heating, hot water and other building uses, and 29 percent goes for electricity.
The Bennington regional plan can be found on the BCRC website, at http://www.rpc.bennington.vt.us
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