Wind project avoids ACT 250 development review

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(Host) A state environmental judge has ruled that a wind project planned for southern Vermont does not have to go through Act 250 development review.

In a victory for the wind industry, the court said that the Public Service Board has the exclusive authority to oversee energy projects.

But the judge said Act 250 could review some of the secondary impacts of the wind development.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) Wind developers have generally tried to avoid Act 250 review because they have to go through a similar process run by the Public Service Board.

But the question of overlapping review was raised because the 19 wind turbines planned for Glebe Mountain would be built on land that’s already covered by the development control law. The area was once targeted for a ski area expansion and five Act 250 permits run with the property.

In October, the local Act 250 coordinator ruled that Act 250 did apply.

But Environmental Law Judge Thomas Durkin disagreed.

In a ruling issued late last week, the judge said the Public Service Board has the authority to review energy projects.

Christopher Roy is a lawyer for the wind developer.

(Roy) “What it does it provides a single agency to review those issues, so you’re not getting conflicting decisions and conflicting processes going on at the same time.”

(Dillon) In his ruling, the judge went through some of the legislative history of the environmental review law for energy projects. He said it’s clear that lawmakers intended to give the Public Service Board exclusive jurisdiction over generation projects. The PSB review incorporates many of the criteria in Act 250.

Utilities and wind developers were closely following the case. And attorney Roy says that for now the decision removes some of their anxiety.

(Roy) “It was a big question, because potentially as Act 250 jurisdiction attaches to more and more property across the state, the potential for these projects – be they transmission projects or generation projects – to touch upon Act 250 land was creating really a nightmare scenario of duplicative review.”

(Dillon) But Durkin’s ruling leaves open the possibly that Act 250 could still apply to what he called “secondary impacts” of the project.

For example, the judge said site clearing for the wind turbines could affect a protected species on neighboring land that’s covered by a 250 permit.

Jim Matteau is executive director of the Windham Regional Commission. The commission raised the jurisdiction question last year, and Matteau says Durkin’s ruling has settled the issue in favor of the Public Service Board review.

(Matteau) “It does however appropriately I guess leave open the possibility that there could be secondary impacts outside the boundary established by the Public Service Board that would have effects on land covered by Act 250 and those would have to be dealt with by whoever owns that land.”

(Dillon) The parties in the case have 30 days to appeal Judge Durkin’s decision.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon.

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