Capital construction bill tangled in wind policy debate

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(Host) Energy had the attention of the Vermont House on Thursday as members debated a $40 million capital bill. Although the bill funds state government projects, the most controversial provisions had little to do with government spending.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The capital construction bill is often the vehicle for lawmakers to set state policy. And the fiercest debate on Thursday came over provisions related to wind energy and hydroelectric power.

The House overwhelmingly rejected plans to have wind projects placed under Act 250 review. Representative Tom Koch, a Barre Town Republican, voted for an amendment that instead sets up a special study commission to look at the impact of wind turbines on Vermont’s ridgelines.

Still, Koch gave this warning:

(Koch) “We may be studying something, and permits may be granted while studying it, and our ridgelines may be permanently altered while we study.

(Dillon) A much closer vote came over a provision that would scrap a plan to remove a power dam on the Lamoille River in Milton in 20 years.

Represenative David Deen, a Westminster Democrat, says the legislation is illegal since it forces the state to cancel an agreement reached after years of negotiations.

(Deen) Mr. Speaker, not only is this the wrong bill in which to address this policy, but Section 61 will violate the comprehensive settlement agreement and cause the Agency of Natural Resources to violate the law.

(Dillon) But Republican Robert Wood of Brandon argued that it doesn’t make sense to tear down the Lamoille dam when it supplies renewable energy.

(Wood) “There’s nothing wrong with this body making a statement that we feel there’s something wrong, should be looked at, it can be looked at, it can be renegotiated. Times change, values change, and green power, renewable power is certainly the buzz word right now.

(Dillon) Environmentalists hope to get the Lamoille provision deleted when the bill moves over to the Senate. Pat Berry, with the Vermont Natural Resources Council, says that removing the dam would restore valuable fish habitat. He says the people who worked for years on the agreement were not given a chance to testify on the issue.

(Berry) “I think the vote today shows that the House clearly violated a private contract. It also sets a precedent where folks that may be willing to avoid litigation and come to an agreement and work through a collaborative process may not be willing to do that in the future if they know that the Legislature may undermine it and send folks back into litigation.”

(Dillon) Governor Jim Douglas also is opposed to canceling the dam removal agreement.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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