NEWPORT CITY — The Northeastern Vermont Development Association is under the gun to adapt its regional energy plan to meet new standards so towns have a say over siting energy projects.
But the intensive work will begin knowing that some town officials are already saying that they can’t meet the standards - and that the standards won’t allow the Northeast Kingdom to say “no” to industrial-grade wind turbines.
David Snedeker, executive director of NVDA, told members of the board of directors Thursday evening that a committee will have to meet probably weekly to get the regional plan updated while training local planners.
Once NVDA’s plan is certified by the state, NVDA can approve updates to local energy plans, he said.
Communities in the NEK are already “very concerned” about these standards, he said.
Irasburg’s planning commission is in the midst of drafting a new town plan in reaction to a proposed two-turbine project on Kidder Hill. Members have said that they don’t think they can meet the new standards as presented by the Vermont Department of Public Service, according to Sen. John Rodgers of Glover.
“I’ve heard that from other towns,” Snedeker said.
Holland’s planning commission is asking state utility regulators for time to work on the town’s energy plan even though a developer has already applied for a certificate of public good for a large turbine on Dairy Air Farm.
The problem in part is that towns have to make room for all types of renewable energy projects, including industrial-sized solar and wind projects, even though the townspeople might oppose it or the town would prefer to see more renewable generation through alternative sources, Rodgers said.
“We’re going to have that challenge,” Snedeker said.
There’s even more uncertainty about the new energy plan standards because Gov.-Elect Phil Scott has said he opposes industrial- grade wind turbines in Vermont and will work to prevent them. It’s not clear what his new administration and the leadership of the Department of Public Service will do with the standards as they exist now.
Other uncertainties about state and federal government policy abound.
Officials from the Vermont Agency of Transportation also spoke at Thursday’s NVDA meeting, pointing out that there is a need for more state funding to match federal transportation funds for state roads and bridges and aid to towns.
But the new governor doesn’t want to raise fees or taxes, noted Michele Boomhower, director of policy, planning and intermodal development for AOT.
And the existing per gallon gasoline tax doesn’t raise as much money as it used to because vehicles are more efficient and are using fewer gallons, she said. The state would need another revenue source for transportation projects.
Another ongoing issue the state and towns are facing is the federal Clean Water Act and the requirement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that Vermont reduce phosphorus in Lake Champlain and soon in Lake Memphremagog.
To achieve that, billions of dollars will be needed for the Lake Champlain plan, which includes grants to help towns reduce runoff from roads, along with other impacts.
The plan for the Lake Memphremagog watershed is similar but not quite as demanding or costly.
But again there is uncertainty, with the potential for major changes in Washington, D.C. when President-Elect Donald Trump takes office.
The nominee to run the EPA is expected to roll back mandates. No one knows if that will affect Vermont.