Legislators Support Moving Energy Siting Process Under Act 250

Caladonian Record: 2/23/2016

By Jennifer Hersey Cleveland Staff Writer

NEWPORT CITY — The three featured legislators at Monday’s legislative breakfast said they would support legislation to mandate that energy developers meet the same criteria as would be required under Act 250.

Rep. Paul Lefebvre (R-Essex-Caledonia-Orleans) said he supports moving the whole siting process from the Public Service Board’s purview to Act 250, an idea that Rep. Michael Marcotte (R-Orleans-2) said he could support.

Sen. Bobby Starr (D-Essex-Orleans) didn’t go so far as to say he’d support that move, but he is in favor of a bill that would afford the Agriculture Department the same authority in the energy siting process as it has under Act 250 in regard to agricultural land use.

The legislators answered questions from citizens at the second breakfast of this year sponsored by Northeastern Vermont Development Association, held monthly at the East Side Restaurant.

“People from across the state are fed up with developers running roughshod over the rest of us,” Starr said.

The state spends hundreds of millions on preserving prime agricultural lands, but allows solar and wind developers to fail to meet the same criteria as those who want to build a house or parking lot under Act 250, Starr said.

There are 22 bills regarding energy siting in the House and Senate, Lefebvre said. “The House has done absolutely nothing.”

Bills are stuck in the office of Rep. Tony Klein, who chairs both the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee and the Joint Energy Committee.
But perhaps that is not surprising, Lefebvre said, since Klein used to be the public relations person for Green Mountain Power. “So he’s not very excited to see these bills go forward.”

Lefebvre said he wants to get the siting process out of the PSB and under Act 250, where there is more land use expertise.

Of Sen. John Rodgers’ bill to ban industrial wind, Lefebvre said it was a “noble effort” but one that has failed to gain traction.

“The board does whatever they want,” Marcotte said of the PSB.

Last year, the legislature mandated that municipalities get “substantial deference” in energy siting decisions, but Marcotte is not convinced that is taking place.

Marcotte said he thinks he can support a move to Act 250, but warned that there could be unintended consequences.

Robbin Clark of Lowell agrees that the process should be moved to Act 250, especially in light of a developer who is buying up tracts of land and who “thumbs his nose at policy and does whatever he wants.”

Municipalities need to find a way to come together, Lefebvre said. More people in office need to look at how industrial turbines on ridgelines and solar arrays that are offensive to some affect rural areas.

While he wishes he could be more optimistic, Lefebvre said, “I think it’s a real uphill battle as more rural people find a unified voice to fight it.”

Don Nelson, whose battle against the Lowell project is well-known, said it is crazy that these projects are being built to help meet the state’s goal of 90 percent renewables by 2050, since they will have outlived their lifespans by them.

Starr agreed and said that perhaps people in Montpelier can’t add. He predicts that these projects will go the way of the old radar towers. “They’ll sit there and rust away.”

If there were no subsidies for building these projects, there would not be one permit application pending because “they’re a lost cause,” Starr said.

Wind and solar require back-up from more reliable sources of energy, Marcotte said. Water runs all day, is a renewable generation source, and the power can be purchased much cheaper from Hydro Quebec.

Lefebvre said the “great elephant in the room” is the fact that there is no place on the grid for additional sources of power here. He bemoaned the sale of renewable energy credits out of state to help other states meet their renewable energy goals.

Dennis Liddy, a protester arrested at the Lowell wind project, said a recent study published in Discover indicates that a failure to carefully monitor how power is run to the grid could cause a massive blackout, sort of like how one additional grain of sand can topple the whole pile.

He suggested that every legislator read the article, which they could use as “ammunition” in the energy battle.

“I don’t know if the governor can read, but we’ll try to get a copy of that to him,” Starr said.

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