By TOM BENTON
Messenger Staff Writer
SWANTON — Community members are fighting for maximum participation in the Public Service Board’s review of Swanton Wind, as that review process becomes potentially more complex and certainly longer.
A visual rendering of the constructed Swanton Wind project as seen from Burton Island in St. Albans, designed by LandWorks for the project.
Patty Rainville resides near Swanton Wind’s proposed construction site, and is one of the project’s opponents.
The board issued its ruling on who can participate under which criteria in early April. For example, any citizen participant falling under the Northwest Regional Planning Commission’s jurisdiction can participate in regards to the project’s “orderly development.”
But that’s as inclusive as the board’s order got in regards to citizen participation. Take Fairfield residents Sally and Bruce Collopy, for example, who applied for participation under several criteria.
The board interpreted the Collopys’ requests to participate regarding the project’s effect on floodways and its effect on shorelines as a request to participate regarding soil erosion. But the board denied the Collopys’ request to participate regarding Swanton Wind’s potential effect on system stability and reliability without evidence of why entities like Green Mountain Power cannot sufficiently represent those interests.
However, the board stated that “citizen intervenors” — the Public Service Board’s term for formal participants — “who qualify to participate on [an] issue must file a notification to that effect.”
They did. A host of citizen intervenors filed notifications to that effect on April 19, arguing that 40 of those intervenors are qualified to participate concerning the project’s economic benefit. Those 40 include familiar names like Patty Rainville, who resides near the project’s could-be construction site straddling the Swanton-St. Albans Town border, former Lt. Governor Brian Dubie and former Franklin County House candidate Penny Dubie, who ran on a platform that included better renewable energy legislation, and the Collopys.
Another 14 parties filed a notification stating they qualify to participate regarding water supply, because they “rely on a drilled well or spring for their water service and their property adjoinsthe project site.”
These notifications come shortly after Vermonters for a Clean Environment (VCE) filed a motion for reconsideration, appealing the board’s order for VCE to represent any citizen intervenors who are also members of VCE through the board’s review process.
But VCE said in its motion for reconsideration that doing so would violate legal regulations prohibiting 501(c)(3) non-profits from representing private interests rather than public interests. The motion also said that VCE’s representative, Annette Smith, is a public advocate, not an attorney, and therefore “cannot be placed in the position of ‘representing’ individuals with individualized interests.”
The motion also noted that Smith had been the subject of a letter from the state attorney general’s office in Jan. 2016, alleging Smith had practiced law without a license.
The board had ordered the consolidation of interests that could be represented by VCE in the interest of efficiency. VCE promised in its motion to coordinate with other parties in the interest of that efficiency.
VCE also requested a two-week extension of the deadline for discovery questions, which would move the deadline to May 8. Responses to VCE’s motion from Christine and Dustin Lang, residents near the project’s proposed construction site, and the Department of Public Service support VCE’s deadline extension, although the Langs’ response requested an even longer deadline delay.
The deadline for this second round of discovery, which allows participating parties to specifically question Swanton Wind and its representatives, was originally set for early March in a scheduling timeline that ran into October. With the deadline now likely extended into May, and even possibly beyond, the latest in a series of continuous delays could push the review process into December or even the next year — even without what now seems like inevitable future delays.
The Public Service Board has yet to respond to these motions.
The ideal outcome of the board’s review, for Swanton Wind, is a Certificate of Public Good, allowing the project to begin the construction process. The ideal outcome for those opposing the project, of course, is for the board to deny its application.
As of the Messenger’s last count, 69 parties are currently participating in the board’s review of Swanton Wind.