Vermont Public Service Board: Hearing Officer's Recommendation re. East Haven Windfarm

For the reasons set forth.., I conclude that the proposed Project will not promote the general good of the state. Therefore, I recommend that the Board not issue a Certificate of Public Good for the proposed Project. However, if the Board does issue a CPG, I recommend that it include the conditions outlined in this Proposal for Decision.

This Docket concerns a proposed four-turbine, six-megawatt windfarm on East Mountain in East Haven, Vermont. The ultimate question in this proceeding, under Section 248 of Title 30, is whether the proposed project promotes the general good of the state. Answering that question for this project, and for any proposed high-elevation wind generation facility in Vermont, requires a balancing of two fundamental state policies: promoting in-state renewable resources, and protecting Vermont's ridgelines. These two policies are important not only to Vermont's state officials (as shown consistently in legislative and regulatory actions), but also to Vermont's citizens (as reflected in the substantial and strongly-held public opinions that have been submitted in this proceeding).

However, Section 248 requires that the Public Service Board ("Board") determine whether a particular project, with its unique benefits and impacts, promotes the general good of the state. Thus, any decision by the Board is a determination of the merits of a given project, and not a determination of the relative merits of these two policies.

After careful consideration of these policies and the specific facts presented, I recommend that the Public Service Board deny a Certificate of Public Good for the proposed project. The proposed project would be constructed on seventeen acres located in the heart of tens of thousands of acres of undeveloped, conserved lands. While this renewable-energy project would provide undeniable benefits, those benefits would come at a significant cost: the project, with four, 329-foot-tall wind turbines, would be located in the midst of extensive lands that have been protected from development through years of effort and the expenditure of millions of dollars of public funds. In short, I conclude that while this may be the right project,1 it is in the wrong place.

This recommended decision should not be interpreted as a statement that wind generation cannot be developed in Vermont. Instead, wind and other renewable resources have an important place in Vermont's energy resource portfolio – as recently confirmed in Public Act No. 61 of 2005 – but, I conclude, that place is not on a narrow slice of land surrounded by thousands of acres that have been conserved through unprecedented measures.

There is a second, separate reason that I recommend denial of a Certificate of Public Good in this proceeding. The Petitioner has failed to provide sufficient evidence on the proposed project's impacts on bats and birds. Thus, the record does not support a finding that the proposed Project would not have an undue adverse impact on bats and birds.

I am mindful of the significant benefits that renewable resources such as this proposed project can provide, including fuel diversity, promotion of energy independence, and fewer environmental impacts than conventional generation technologies. Those benefits can, and should, help proponents of renewable resources demonstrate that their projects comply with the Section 248 criteria; those benefits should not, and cannot, justify holding renewable resources to a lower standard of review under the provisions of Section 248. Based on the record before me, for the reasons discussed below, I recommend that the Board find that the Petitioner has failed to demonstrate that its proposed project complies with the environmental protection requirements of Section 248.

Despite its important benefits, commercial-scale wind generation can only be sited in Vermont if the project satisfies the requirements of 30 V.S.A. § 248. Therefore, the ultimate decision in this case, whether the Board adopts, modifies, or rejects my recommendation, must rest on the particular facts presented. I have concluded, and recommended to the Board accordingly, that the facts presented here do not support issuance of a Certificate of Public Good.

Hearing Officer East Haven

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MAR 1 2006
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