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Regional plan could provide local say on renewables

Want a say in where renewable energy comes from in your neighborhood?

The Lamoille County Planning Commission is looking for public comment on its renewable energy plan.

A public hearing on the plan will be held March 13 at 5 p.m. at Lamoille County Planning Commission’s Morristown office. The plan is available online at lcpcvt.org. Nine of Lamoille County’s 10 towns are part of the regional planning commission; the exception is Morristown.

The commission has been working on its renewable energy plan since late 2016.

Before that, the Vermont Public Utility Commission didn’t have to give much consideration to town plans that dealt with renewable energy. However, the Legislature then passed Act 174, which says the commission must give “substantial deference” to a regional planning commission’s certified renewable energy plan – thus giving local residents a voice in the siting of renewable energy projects.

Certified renewable energy plans help towns decide, before projects are proposed, where they’re acceptable, and also outline how towns will work toward the state’s goal to get 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

The goal is to produce about 10 percent of that renewable energy in Vermont.

The state’s goal also requires Vermonters to reduce their collective energy use by 33 percent by 2050.

Right now, businesses and residents of Lamoille County get 21 percent of their energy from renewable sources, and the other 79 percent from non-renewables such as petroleum, the draft plan says.

The plan makes most Lamoille County ridgelines off-limits to wind turbines, along with any location within 1 kilometer of a residence, and takes into consideration where solar farms would be feasible.

Lamoille County covers almost 300,000 acres, 70,000 of which have the potential for solar.

About 1,000 acres would be needed for solar energy to meet the state’s goals by 2050.

To help meet the state’s goals, utilities in Lamoille County would need to produce about five and a half times as much renewable energy as they do now.

Stowe Electric Department won’t need to build more renewable energy sites, says general manager Ellen Burt, since it built a 1-megawatt solar farm in Nebraska Valley two years ago.

“One thing is Stowe really has the transmission capacity,” Burt said. “We are out of the whole loop of transmission that needs to be upgraded to the north of us. So on that piece, we’re definitely ahead.”

She doesn’t know yet whether the plan could mean additional costs to Stowe taxpayers and electric department ratepayers.

“Right now, this plan is an aspirational document, and it’s really very broad, at this point. Many things may change, such as the energy market’s regulation, and as technology evolves. It’s very difficult to pinpoint, at this point,” Burt said.

The time to make your voice heard is now, when Lamoille County Planning Commission is still crafting those policies.

The commission held a public hearing Feb. 27, and has two more to go. Just two people attended the hearing Feb. 27, said Tasha Wallis, the planning commission’s executive director, and the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources asked the commission to better define what size wind turbines it would be OK with, but the reception, overall, has been positive.

“We anticipate some comments from some of our adjoining regional planning commissions,” which don’t get any official say in the plan, but which are allowed the opportunity to comment, Wallis said.

The Hyde Park electric department did request some revisions involving information about the services it provides to customers, but so far no other member towns have commented, said Lea Kilvadyova, the planner in charge of crafting the plan.

Tom Jackman, Stowe’s director of planning, says the town doesn’t plan to file any formal comment about the plan.

“It’s just a plan for doing Lamoille County’s part in meeting the state’s energy goals and it doesn’t mandate anything, so there’s nothing in it that would pose a challenge to Stowe residents,” Jackman said. “People are free to choose whether or not they want to install solar panels or wind turbines on their properties.”