The siting of industrial wind projects could be a key issue during the 2017 legislative session, because Gov.-elect Phil Scott wants lawmakers to enact a two-year moratorium on all large, ridgeline wind proposals.
In calling for a moratorium, he is keeping a pledge he made during the recent gubernatorial campaign.
The governor-elect has long been concerned that a number of proposed, large-scale wind projects have sharply divided communities across the state.
As a result, he said the time has come to comprehensively review Vermont’s energy needs before allowing any new, big wind proposals to be put into place.
At a recent press conference, Scott said he would prefer a permanent moratorium, but realizes he’ll need to compromise on this issue.
“The reality is probably ... a short-term moratorium,” he said. “What I would personally like to see is to protect our ridgelines in perpetuity. That’s my personal goal but the reality is that that won’t happen.”
Scott is hoping legislative leaders will be sympathetic to his concerns: “I’m looking forward to working with them. Hopefully we can come to some agreement.”
But it’s unlikely the Senate will go along with a moratorium, even in the short term. Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, chairman of the Senate Natural Resources Committee, said lawmakers spent the last two years developing a new siting law.
Under this law, towns that are deemed to be in compliance with local, regional and state energy plans will be given “substantial deference” when a proposal for their community is considered by the Vermont Public Service Board.
Bray said this new authority doesn’t represent veto power for local communities as some wind opponents wanted. But he said it requires the board to have strong reasons to overturn a local planning decision on an energy project.
Bray also said it’s important to give the new law some time to see how it works.
“I think we would seriously undermine that kind of shared planning process if we declared a moratorium on any particular energy type,” he said, “because good planning is a rational process we’re all going to come together, we’re going to think about things and we’re going to come to some conclusions as a group.”
And Bray said lawmakers can always revisit this issue in several years if there are problems with the new law.
“I’m confident that we will make progress and keep people together as a community as a state as a region,” Bray said. “Moratoriums are — it’s a very fancy word for ‘no’ and we can’t afford to have people just say ‘no’. Everyone needs to be part of the solution.”
Sen. Tim Ashe, D-Chittenden, who will serve as president pro tem of the Senate in 2017 said the chamber spent a lot of time last year on the siting law. He said there’s no reason to reconsider the issue unless a lot of senators have changed their minds.
“Until I speak with other members of the Senate about what would have changed to make them want to go with a moratorium, I don’t believe it has a lot of traction and I think the sensitivity to the community members has already been reflected by the Senate in our work last year,” Ashe said.
He said he plans to let Scott know that dealing with this issue in the upcoming session is a low priority for the Senate.