Wind commission hears first impressions of regulatory process proposal

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(Host) Vermonters got a chance to respond on Tuesday to recommendations on how “large wind energy projects” will be regulated. Developers like the proposal to keep the review out of Act 250. But others say the robust critique of the development law is necessary.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The Governor’s Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy has a cumbersome name and a thorny task. The seven-member panel was supposed to decide if the state’s system of reviewing new wind-generated power plants was up to the job of regulating the large-scale projects planned for Vermont’s ridgelines.

For the most part, the commission believes the current system works. The commission said the Public Service Board, not local Act 250 commissions, should judge the wind energy proposals.

That’s not the message that Karen Christiansen from Burke wanted to hear.

(Christiansen) “Allowing these industrial-scale projects to rape the ridgelines of Vermont’s Green Mountains would be a travesty.”

(Dillon) Christiansen and other wind energy skeptics argue that Vermont’s environment is best protected under Act 250, the state’s development review law.

(Christiansen) “I found your recommendations to be anemic and I ask that you please rethink them prior to December 15. Section 248 is inadequate as a means of regulating these projects.”

(Dillon) Act 248 is administered by the Public Service Board and includes many components of Act 250 review. The commission said that putting wind energy under Act 250 would be duplicative and inefficient. Instead, the panel says that the PSB should do more to get the public involved in its review.

For example, the commission wants the state to consider hiring an ombudsman to help guide people through the hearings. The commission also said that the PSB should provide notice to everyone within 10 miles of a proposed wind turbine.

The wind industry likes the recommendations. Dave Rappaport is vice president of East Haven Windfarm, which wants to install four turbines in the Northeast Kingdom.

(Rappaport) “Most of the recommendations that the commission made are really just good practice and the kinds of things that developers, I think, generally do or ought to be doing anyway. So we’re supportive of the things that they’ve recommended, at least in principle.”

(Dillon) Environmental groups are also on board. Pat Berry is with the Vermont Natural Resources Council. While he likes the commission’s recommendations, he says the state still needs to decide where major wind projects should go.

(Berry) “I just hope that Vermonters don’t assume that this is some kind of substitute for the larger problem of where we’re going to put wind installations if Vermont decides that’s what we want to do. If you look at the conflicts across the state about where these [are] put, these projects are judged on a piecemeal basis and they’re filling a vacuum that’s left by poor energy planning and negligible leadership.”

(Dillon) The governor’s commission makes its final report to the governor on December 15. It’s accepting written comments through November 29.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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