Senate restores noise, training provisions in renewable siting bill

Senators plan today to vote on a bill proponents say will give Vermont towns a say in where the state’s renewable-energy generators get sited.

The bill won support from critics of the state’s renewable-energy industry by including a provision directing the Public Service Board to write new rules governing sound emitted by wind turbines.

Senators have said the bill must pass this session, but should the Senate approve it today the document will land next in a House committee whose chairman has said there is “absolutely not” a need to pass it.

Senators planned to vote on the bill Tuesday afternoon, but that chamber’s natural resources committee and its finance committee instead wrangled with it into the evening without passing it to the Senate floor.

The lawmakers reviewed amendments restoring several provisions that the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee had struck.

Among other things, the amendments would set aside $300,000 with which to train municipal and regional officials to write local and regional energy plans. Properly-crafted regional and municipal plans, according to the bill, will receive “substantial deference” when the Public Service Board considers renewable-energy project applications.

This means that unless “clear and convincing” evidence shows otherwise, renewable-energy projects must be sited in locations designated by local and regional energy plans.

Senators also proposed to restore provisions for a pilot project meant to encourage new renewable-energy sources in preferred locations, such as above parking lots.

They also would require many wind turbines to use radar-activated obstruction lights that would warn pilots when they’re near, and turn off when they’re not. The requirement would save wind-turbine neighbors from a potential source of annoyance, supporters say.

Senators said while critics at the capitol might not like it, most Vermonters probably will.

“I think this … bill is an answer to the concerns of a lot of our constituents, so I’m cautiously optimistic this will get over the finish line, and locals will have a say in renewable energy in this state,” said Sen. Brian Campion, D-Bennington, a member of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee. “There might be folks in this building who have mixed feelings about the bill … but this is a great bills for constituents: it’s what they’ve been asking for, and I think it’s important to get this over the finish line for them.”

Campion said he is reasonably sure that his counterparts in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee will approve the bill.

That committee, headed by Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, had stripped the bill of all but its most essential components.

Klein has said in the past that he doesn’t consider it essential that the bill pass this year. The chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, disagrees and said Tuesday that he’s reviewed proposed amendments with Klein to ensure the bill makes it through Klein’s committee.

Critics of the state’s existing renewable-energy policies say they’re heartened by certain of the bill’s features.

“I’m encouraged — the bill’s in better shape than when it came out of the House,” said John Brabant, spokesman for Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Brabant said he likes the sound standards that S.230 directs the Public Service Board to write. Similar standards are used in states and countries where wind turbine farms are common, he said.

On the other hand, Brabant said the heart of S. 230 “sends us backwards.”

An advocate for local control over renewable-energy siting decisions, Brabant said that the legislature years ago passed Act 200 to prevent state agencies from telling towns how to conduct themselves, and said S. 230 accomplishes just that.

Because the Department of Public Service must approve municipal and regional plans in order for those plans to receive “substantial deference” from the Public Service Board, Brabant said, the state still controls siting decisions that should properly rest with Vermont’s towns.

The bill also doesn’t give enough weight to town and regional plans, Brabant said.

“It’s ‘substantial deference,’ not ‘deference,’” he said. “There’s a big difference.”

Senators are scheduled to vote on the bill at 1 p.m. today.


MAY 4 2016
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