MONTPELIER - New standards on large scale wind projects in Vermont will give towns a voice in where they are built, but opting out entirely won't be an option.
Deputy Public Service Commissioner Jon Copans said that's in keeping with legislation passed this year. Act 174 called for regions and municipalities to take a deep dive into energy planning, or lose an opportunity to have a greater say when the Public Service Board considers new wind, solar or other renewable energy projects.
Critics of using Vermont's mountaintops as wind power sites have urged that municipalities be allowed to close the door on wind power projects, particularly in areas already hosting them.
Energy siting was a big issue in the 2016 legislative session. Residents living near recently built or proposed wind turbine towers, as well as those living near some large-scale solar projects, said their views were not sufficiently being taken into account as the state Public Service Board reviewed and approved projects. Renewable energy advocates countered that they did not want to see new restrictions on Vermont's ability to move to a green-energy economy in the fight against climate change.
The resulting legislation called for the development of the planning standards issued this week.
Mark Whitworth, board president of the anti-large-scale-wind power group Energize Vermont, said in an interview that Vermont's three northeastern-most counties — Orleans, Essex and Caledonia, collectively known as the Northeast Kingdom — already are doing more than their share, with large wind power projects in Sheffield and Lowell.
"The Kingdom is already over budget on wind, but that's not an acceptable answer," Whitworth said.
The Public Service Department issued standards in the form of series of questions. One to regional commissions asks, "Does the plan allow for the siting in the region of all types of renewable generation technologies? (Y/N)?" A questionnaire geared to city and town officials asks a similar question about whether local energy plans allow "any particular renewable resource size or type?"
Copans said an answer of no would not meet the standard contained in the law.
The law "says clearly that all regions must enable ... the hosting of all technologies," Copans said in an interview Wednesday.
Vermont will not meet its goal, codified in state law, of getting at least 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050 if it takes certain technologies off the table, he said.
Copans said the regional and local planning processes are gearing up. Local planners should be working with their regional planning commissions, and interested residents should be watching for public hearings and other opportunities to get involved.
"This is actually happening, and they (residents) have a great opportunity to engage at the regional level right now," Copans said.