Scientific analysis has shown that the results of fossil fuel combustion are levying major environmental impacts on Vermonts natural resources. Some common environmental problems associated with fossil fuel combustion include:
- Twenty-five percent of all lakes in Vermont are home to fish that exceed EPA standards for mercury.
- Over half of the high elevation red spruce canopy has perished due to acid deposition.
- Global climate change threatens the existence of Vermont's northern hardwood forest.
We generally support the development of wind energy in Vermont as part of an environmentally sound energy policy aimed at reducing the environmental impacts of electricity generation through increased energy conservation and efficiency and the use of renewable energy sources. Technological advances in wind energy have made it possible to reduce the need for fossil fuel electric generation, and thus lower the environmental impacts of fossil fuel combustion.
To help guide our own internal policy on wind energy, VNRC has developed a list of criteria that we feel is appropriate to consider for wind energy development. These criteria are not exclusive to state owned land, but rather focus on developing a vision for siting wind energy infrastructure in Vermont. We have included specific considerations for State lands as well.
The goal is to integrate the need to develop new in-state sources of renewable energy with protection of existing environmental values and public policy goals.
The Vermont Natural Resources Council does not support developing wind energy on sites that meet the following criteria:
- Public lands that have a low level of human disturbance and development, that do not have existing public roads or infrastructure, or that do not have intensive development.
- Ridgelines with steep slopes, uneven topography, or large bedrock outcrops.
- Inventoried Roadless Areas on National Forest, areas that generally have a core area of roadless characteristics, and lands that are ecologically intact and unfragmented.
- Areas with little or no evidence of past human disturbance, and lands where management has not significantly altered the landscape.
- Natural Areas, Fragile Areas or Wilderness Areas.
- Lands encumbered by conservation easements.
- Areas that currently receive a high level of backcountry use, especially within the Long Trail and Appalachian Trail corridors.
- Areas with significant or critical habitat, public or private lands identified as having critical plant or animal habitat (especially habitat identified by the Non-game and Natural Heritage Program) or areas within major bird migration routes.
- Areas that would diminish the wilderness characteristics of existing or proposed Wilderness Areas.
- Areas designated as scenic corridors or ridgeline protection areas.
We do support focusing development of wind energy in Vermont in the following areas:
- Private and public lands that are already developed with existing, high-impact infrastructure. (In order to minimize the environmental impacts during and after the construction process, wind development should focus on areas that have existing permanent and secondary roads and transmission lines.)
- Lands that are already used for commercial activity that are developed with roads and infrastructure. (In order to minimize the impacts of habitat fragmentation and the aesthetic impacts, wind development should focus on areas such as developed ski areas or lands with existing communication towers.)
- Areas where evidence of human development is already noticeable, or lands where management has significantly altered the landscape.
VNRC understands that there is always the possibility of exception to any draft guidelines, and therefore is willing to exercise open-minded judgment on projects on a case-by-case basis. While we find these guidelines instructive, VNRC does reserve the right to oppose a particular project where we do not believe that an appropriate consideration of these guidelines has been taken.
Energy Planning in Vermont
In general, Vermont needs to consider modernizing its current public policy to better address concerns about wind energy development. Short of this statewide planning effort, reviewing bodies, citizen groups, and municipalities will not know when, where, or whether wind facilities are meeting established needs. In order to help guide the public decision-making process we encourage the expansion of the recently released Agency of Natural Resources report An Assessment of Hypothetical Wind Power Potential on State Lands in Vermont to be expanded to include assessment of hypothetical wind power potential on private lands in Vermont as well.
Some legislative changes may also be necessary. In order to modernize the process of obtaining a Public Service Board Certificate of Public Good, we believe that the Legislature should amend the Section 248 notice period to host towns and regional commissions from 45 days to 90 days. This would afford citizens more time to learn about proposed projects. Host towns, regional planning commissions and the regional development commissions should also be given party status in any Public Service Board hearing to help maximize the public involvement in the decision-making process.
VNRC believes that all wind energy projects should be required to include decommissioning funds to ensure the restoration of the land area impacted by wind energy development in the case of decommissioning. In the absence of Legislative action on requiring a decommissioning fund, VNRC believes that the Public Service Board should do so in permitting projects.
We support the Quechee Analysis to consider the visual impacts of development in the state regulatory process. Wind energy developers should be required to work with landscape architects to develop wind farms that meet the guidelines set forth by the Quechee Analysis and local and regional plans. Detailed viewshed analysis should be conducted and given to local communities prior to submitting a petition for a Certificate of Public Good. The view-shed analysis should require projection of visual impacts from state and local roads, recreational trails and overlooks, public recreation facilities, shorelines, river and water bodies, wetlands, historic structures and villages, downtown areas and neighborhoods of intensive residential development within the visibility area (ten miles). These simulations should include both daytime and nighttime.
In order to protect the water quality of Class A Waters, no road construction or transmission line should be allowed within a 250 foot buffer of any Class A or Outstanding Resource Water/Outstanding National Resource Water as designated by the Water Resources Board. All project proposals should receive a General Stormwater Permit for Stormwater Runoff from the Department of Environmental Conservations Water Quality Division in order to ensure that stormwater runoff during and after the construction process is properly addressed.
In order to protect the natural resource values of wetlands, no road construction or transmission line should be built through a Class One wetland or within a 250-foot buffer. Road construction and transmission line construction should be excluded from Class Two wetlands and within 100 feet of their buffer.
In order to better understand the impacts of wind power on avian species in Vermont, we encourage the State to require a minimum of two years of radar studies to identify bird and bat migration patterns surrounding any proposed wind farm. Assessments could be conducted concurrent with necessary anemometer readings, and does not need to be taken prior to wind analysis. Ecological assessments should also be required for other wildlife, including black bear. The developer should be required to fund such wildlife studies, and all data should be made available to the public.
Public Lands Energy Leasing
Furthermore, we are concerned about the ramifications of leasing energy production on public land. VNRC believes that state owned land provides many important functions for the public that do not fall in line with commercial development on publicly owned land However, we do recognize that ski areas are one example of where commercial development does take place. Keeping that in mind, we encourage profit sharing from all leases collected from the wind farms. We encourage ANR to split the leases with the Department of Building and General Service. Half the revenues should go to fund small-scale renewable energy and energy efficiency projects for any project initiated by the Department of Buildings and General Service. The other half should go to the Nongame and Natural Heritage Program of the Department of Fish and Wildlife in order to help identify and manage Vermonts threatened and endangered species.