SWANTON – The Public Utility Commission (PUC) denied Swanton Wind’s motion to reconsider delaying its review process until the project completes a system impact study.
The PUC is responsible for reviewing all proposed Vermont energy projects. Those projects’ construction is contingent on the awarding of a “Certificate of Public Good” from the PUC, certifying that the project has met the requirements of state law, specifically Title 30, Section 248 of the Vermont statutes.
But the PUC review process has been effectively on hold for Swanton Wind since late June, when the commission announced it would not continue its review of the project until Swanton Wind completes a system impact study (SIS), investigating the project’s potential effect on the electrical grid with which it would interconnect.
The PUC order came in response to a filing from the Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS), which, the commission said, raised significant issues about the need for the project’s proposed electric output. The grid with which it would interconnect has experienced significant transmission capacity issues, too much power at any given time.
Swanton Wind filed a motion for the commission to reconsider its order, noting the commission previously approved several projects without requiring an SIS at this point in the review process.
But those projects’ applications had sufficient information provided by qualified experts, the commission wrote in its order denying the motion, filed Thursday. The commission previously agreed with the DPS’s assertion that expert testimony in Swanton Wind was lacking after changes to Vermont’s power purchase agreement regulations, made immediately prior to the project’s application filing.
“Given the conditional nature of this testimony,” the commission wrote in its order Thursday, “the fact that Swanton Wind plans to introduce up to 20 [megawatts] of generation into the grid, and the transmission constraints in the area of the network in which the project is proposed to be located, the information provided by Swanton Wind is insufficient to support the required findings in the absence of a completed and final SIS.”
The commission wrote it could not evaluate the project as required by Vermont statutes, and the commission’s own rules, without the SIS.
Swanton Wind also asserted in its motion that the commission’s order was untimely, and unfair. The commission’s review process was well underway, and Swanton Wind argued, in its motion, that its developers had already spent a significant amount of time and resources on this process.
“We realize that Swanton Wind has expended a significant amount of time and resources on this matter to date,” the commission wrote in its order. “However, so have all the other parties.
“In balancing these interests, we have determined that the correct approach is not to continue imposing these expenditures on the parties until Swanton Wind files the complete and final SIS.”
Doing so does not require Swanton Wind to spend any more time or resources than it would already have to in this process, the commission wrote. A SIS is a requirement of the PUC’s review, just not normally so early in the process.
The commission also wrote that its decision keeps with the spirit of Act 174, the state law passed in 2016 designed to give municipalities greater say in local energy siting. The commission said its order saves participants in this review process, especially dozens of community members from the towns surrounding Swanton Wind’s proposed site, from aiming for a “moving target,” in thecommission’s words, as the review process moves forward.
However, the commission didn’t just deny Swanton Wind’s motion, but also a motion from the DPS, asking the commission to order Swanton Wind to complete a curtailment study as well. A curtailment study investigates the economic effects should the project’s generation be reduced or restricted.
That’s not necessary, the commission decided, because both the DPS and Green Mountain Power are participating in the review, and will have the opportunity to present their positions on the project’s effects.
“If the testimony from the Department or GMP raises a significant issue with respect to the proposed project’s impacts on the operation of existing generation resources,” the commission wrote, “the ultimate burden of persuasion resides with Swanton Wind and it will need to respond accordingly.”
The commission has ordered Swanton Wind to file regular updates on the status of its SIS until the study is completed, including an estimated completion date when one exists.
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