REBELLION: The number of towns pushing back on energy siting in Vermont has grown to 118, according to Energize Vermont.
The “Vermont Energy Rebellion” has grown to 118 towns, according to Energize Vermont. One of the latest towns to join is Hardwick.
When Hardwick adopted the Rutland Resolution in February, gaining control over energy siting was on the minds of many Selectboard members.
“What could be bad about having the town have more input in a project that’s going to be right there?” Hardwick Selectboard member Shari Cornish said on Feb. 18, when the board met and voted in favor of the resolution.
“I just wonder if it wouldn’t in the end be a better course than having these things get dragged out and people get arrested picketing, because that’s their only recourse as there isn’t any way for the town to have that input on the front end,” she said, recalling a 2012 incident when 150 protestors attempted to block Green Mountain Power’s 21-turbine Lowell Mountain Wind project.
The so-called energy rebellion consists of towns that have either adopted town plans that discourage specific siting or energy options, passed resolutions calling for reform of Vermont’s energy siting policies, or taken action to block a poorly-sited energy project.
Of the 118 towns that fall into those three categories, at least 96 towns have signed onto the Rutland Resolution. Introduced in late 2014, that statement calls on state lawmakers and the Public Service Board to respect municipal plans
Despite the growing backlash from towns, “rebellion” leaders not happy with results yet. On Feb. 16, the PSB rejected an application for a certificate of public good for a 2-megawatt solar array in Bennington — the first denial of a large project in recent memory.
Don Chioffi, a Rutland Town Selectboard member, and coauthor of the Rutland Resolution, said he’s cautiously optimistic about the move.
“If it’s a precedent then it’s wonderful,” he said. “And if it’s an anomaly, then this is just a ruse to get people to drop their guard, thinking that’s what they (Public Service Board members) are going to do all the time.”
Chioffi said the PSB needs a clear definition of what information needs to be in a town plan to get consistent rulings from the PSB.
In response to towns, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee is hard at work on S.230, a bill that proposes various improvements to energy siting.
Whitworth is skeptical that the Legislature will come through.
“What these towns want is for town plans to mean something,” he said. “I’m not sure that this Legislature is going to do what they want. This eventually is going to get done, but it may take another Legislature to do it.”
In January, Rep. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, suggested reforming Vermont’s siting process to adhere to Act 250, meaning they must adapt to town and regional plans. Rodgers told Watchdog that without enough support for imposing Act 250 on developers, plan B is to adapt Act 248, the current energy siting process, to be more like Act 250.
This may not be enough for Chioffi.
“I think they are looking for a way out again, for the second year in a row,” he said. “They may go for some kind of scapegoat language that will make it look like they are acceding to some of our language but not really doing it. I don’t believe the will is there to do it.”
Whitworth echoed the sentiment.
“Right now many of the criteria from Act 250 are part of the energy siting permit process. The trouble is they are not hard and fast — they can be overridden in a variety of ways,” he said. “For example, a town plan right now is only given due consideration by the PSB, and due consideration is not defined.”
Chioffi said lawmakers should remember that this is an election year, and if Montpelier doesn’t start taking tangible action then there could be consequences.
“When are we going to get to the point where we stop (messing) around and say ‘Look you guys, if you don’t do something on this we are just going to un-elect you all, and we’re going to work our (tail) off to do that.’ When are we going to get to that state, because that’s the only thing they seem to understand?”
In Hardwick, the decision to sign on to the resolution centered on whether or not towns get full veto power.
“This is saying, ‘You’ve got to pay more attention, you aren’t giving the locals a veto power,’” said Selectboard member Elizabeth Dow.”
Selecboard chair Eric Remick clarified in the meeting that if the resolution is to be effective, the town must update its town plan to make specific siting demands.