Saint Albans Messenger; January 25, 2016
Measure urges more control by municipalities
By ELAINE EZERINS Messenger Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS – The town selectboard has joined more than 50 other Vermont towns in signing a resolution that asks state leaders to increase the amount of input from municipalities for certificates of public good regarding renewable energy projects.
The Rutland Town Renewable Energy Resolution states, “At best, the current certificate of public good (CPG) process affords a limited and ineffectual role for Vermont municipalities, municipal planning commissions and town selectboard.”
This is caused by the process and legal analysis used by the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), which allows it to disregard or avoid the policies and standards of the municipality in which the renewable energy project is to be located, according to the resolution.
The resolution, drafted back in 2015, now has support locally from St. Albans Town, Montgomery, Georgia, Swanton and other towns.
Proposed development of the Swanton Wind project with its seven turbines to be located off of Rout 105 near the St. Albans Town and Swanton border has brought the issue to the forefront in recent months.
“The town should have more standing with the Public Service Board,” Selectman Sam Smith said.
“I’ll support what Sam just said,” Selectman Bruce Cheeseman said.
“We should have more of a voice, our community should, with the decision making process of the public service board.”
Selectman David McWilliams agreed, saying, “I think by supporting this, we’re actually telling our representatives and our senators that we want more control in our local towns and to not leave it up to the Public Service Board.”
The resolution states, “by focusing on regional impacts … the PSB routinely ignores the input and evidence offered by Vermont municipalities. As a result, the ‘due consideration’ of municipal viewpoints required has become consideration in name only.”
Towns that signed the resolution agree that legislative changes are needed in order to give municipalities a greater say regarding the approval and siting of renewable energy projects.
“The Georgia wind towers were pushed through by the Public Service Board,” Brent Palmer, selectboard chair, said. Palmer appeared for his first selectboard meeting since last year, during which he was recovering from an illness.
“Half the time they’re not turning because the grid system cannot take the power,” Palmer said. “I think that we need to have more say and Green Mountain Power or whoever needs to make sure that if all these solar panels go in, all these wind towers that go in, the grid system needs to be able to take this power.”
“You want to go to renewable energy, I agree,” Palmer said, “but you need to have the infrastructure to take it.”
Smith said, “One of the things that I have a problem with is that there is very little consideration for the economics of the alternative energy. We’re pushing to have solar and wind, but it comes with a price. It is not that cost effective.”
“These solar panels have about a ten-year life,” he continued. “You get the downside of solar panels everywhere. You’ve got wind towers on the hillside and we’re probably paying three to four cents more a kilowatt for that type of energy.”
“It would be wonderful if it were at least as affordable as hydroelectric or some other sources,” Smith said. “And so, it’s a feel good kind of thing, but it has downsides.”
Patricia Rainville, of St. Albans, who attended the selectboard meeting Tuesday, said she spoke with Gov. Peter Shumlin regarding statewide concerns about the PBS and renewable energy projects.
“We were able to get him to understand exactly how the Public Service Board handled this issue up to this point in the state for everyone: Georgia Mountain, Lowell, Sheffield, all of them,” she said.
The 21 turbines, 63-mega- watt Lowell Mountain wind farm and the 10-megawatt Georgia Mountain project were launched in 2012. The 16 turbines, 40-megawatt project in Sheffield was created in 2011.
Rainville said at one public service board meeting she attended, the board did not take public input fully into consideration.
“This isn’t the Public service Board that I know,” she said. “This is a totally different group, with a totally different agenda.”
A solar siting task force presented recommendations to the Legislature Friday giving regional planning commissions greater control, as was reported by VTDigger’s Mike Polhamus last week.
The recommendations, as explained thus far, stop short of assigning local governments the power to veto a project, because given the choice; many localities would not host renewable projects, according to the Department of Public Service Deputy Commissioner Jon Copans.
The recommendations would provide resources and training to the state’s 11 regional planning commissions (RPC) to help them plan for future energy projects. It would also give RPCs jurisdiction in state environmental proceedings for renewable energy sources.