By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
ST. ALBANS — An attorney for the Northwest Regional Planning Commission (NRPC) told the NRPC Policy/Project Review Committee Wednesday evening that a pending legal situation could force Swanton Wind “back to the drawing board.”
Attorney David Rugh gave NRPC members a broad overview of Swanton Wind’s application for a Certificate of Public Good, which, if approved, would allow the project’s construction. However, Rugh said another case before the PSB may prove more important: Swanton Wind’s pending power purchase agreement (PPA).
Rugh told NRPC members that Swanton Wind filed for a PPA prior to submitting its complete Section 248 petition, its application for a Certificate of Public Good. Under state statutes at the time of Swanton Wind’s initial filing, a PPA determined a fixed price an electricity purchaser would pay the electricity generator over a 30-year period. But the rules changed in Sept. 2016. Now a PPA determines a fixed purchase price over a seven-year period.
Rugh said Swanton Wind filed for its PPA and its initial Section 248 application in 2015, but the application was deemed incomplete. The project’s final application was not submitted until Sept. 2016, meaning any PPA may fall
NRPC Policy/Project Review Chair Bill Irwin.
TOM BENTON, photo
under the revised statutes.
“This changes the economics of Swanton Wind’s project perhaps dramatically,” Rugh said. “They could have to go back to the drawing board.”
The PSB has not yet ruled on the matter, he said. But the PSB’s hearing officer has issued involved parties a proposal for decision, which Rugh described as a sort of preliminary decision to which involved parties can respond before the PSB issues an official decision. Rugh said that final decision could be issued within a month, and that if the PSB decides Swanton Wind must adhere to the revised PPA standards, the project’s developers will have to decide if Swanton Wind remains “a viable project.”
“That may put the brakes on this project,” Rugh said. “We’ll have to see.”
Several residents of the area surrounding Swanton Wind’s proposed site attended the NRPC’s meeting, and made public comments to the board. Former Lieutenant Governor Brian Dubie, a Fairfield resident, was among them. Dubie, an American Airlines pilot, read an email he said he received that morning from a trusted co-pilot, a Rhode Island resident near whose home nine 1.5-megawatt (mW) wind turbines were recently constructed.
“I’m fighting an uphill battle here,” Dubie read. His friend, whom Dubie did not identify by name, wrote that the noise of those nine turbines was “unbearable” — that he could not find a lawyer who would help him sue the project for less than $30,000, that town officials dodged him, and, Dubie pointed out, that those turbines are of the same manufacture and distance from homes as the proposed Swanton Wind turbines.
“I would just say this is really about people,” Dubie told the NRPC committee.
Fairfield resident Greg Pearce asked if NRPC representatives would attend the PSB’s public workshop on Swanton Wind tonight at Missisquoi Valley Union School in Swanton, beginning at 5 p.m. NRPC representatives and an NRPC attorney will attend the workshop.
The NRPC Policy/ Project Review Committee chair, Bakersfield resident Bill Irwin, clarified the status of the NRPC’s participation in the PSB’s regulatory process regarding Swanton Wind. Irwin explained the purpose of the committee is determining whether any project accords with the NRPC’s regional energy plan and/ or could have a substantial impact on the region.
“We have already determined the project does have a substantial regional impact,” Irwin told the public attendees. He said those who familiarize themselves with the NRPC’s regional energy plan will “have a good idea” where the commission will stand before the PSB.
Fairfield resident Penny Dubie asked if the NRPC has taken a stance regarding the project. Irwin said the NRPC does not take stances, only examines projects as far as those two criteria, substantial regional impact and conformance with the regional energy plan. But as far as whether to oppose or support the project in the PSB process, “it may be we don’t make a determination… until sometime later,” Irwin said, such as after the discovery portion of the PSB’s review, which concludes after March.
“We try to verify a project goes forth only when we are positive it’s in compliance with the regional plan,” Irwin said.
Brian Dubie praised the board for its “discipline” in carefully examining projects.
The committee went into executive session after an hour of public discussion to discuss legal issues related to the NRPC’s participation in the PSB regulatory process. Committee members questioned whether it was necessary to enter executive session, but Rugh advised doing so. “For example, if Swanton Wind representatives were sitting at this table, I wouldn’t want them to hear,” he said.
Irwin said much of the NRPC’s future discussions regarding Swanton Wind would be public, after the initial stages of the PSB’s review process, and that there will be chances for public comment when those discussions occur.