House committee skeptical of wind power resolution

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(Host) Vermont lawmakers appear reluctant to weigh in on the fate of a controversial Northeast Kingdom wind project. The project was dealt a blow this month when a state regulator said it would have an unacceptable impact on nearby public lands.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) Those who support large-scale wind energy were surprised this month when a hearing officer recommended against the East Haven wind farm in the Northeast Kingdom. They’ve taken those concerns to the Legislature. And a resolution was drafted that urges the Public Service Board to consider overruling its hearing officer.

Representative Kathie Keenan from Saint Albans chairs the Commerce Committee. She’s the lead sponsor of the resolution.

(Keenan) “It is clear we must find new sources of energy that are renewable and derive from Vermont sources. Wind meets all of these criteria.”

(Dillon) But when the resolution came to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, the panel seemed skeptical. East Montpelier Democrat Tony Klein says he supports the project. And he said that the Legislature may want to change how the Public Service Board reviews wind energy.

(Klein) “But we haven’t done that yet. And because we haven’t done that yet, I will be voting no on this resolution, not because of its content but because of its process.”

(Dillon) The potential interference with the Public Service Board bothered Senator Bobby Starr, who represents Essex and Orleans counties. Starr told the committee that he and other Northeast Kingdom lawmakers have opposed the wind projects planned for their area. But he said they’ve been told to follow the process before the PSB.

(Starr) “And lo and behold, the first strike that’s against the folks that want to put up these things. Within 48 hours there’s a three-page resolution dropped on us to promote this thing and to override the hearing officer’s recommendations. And I just think what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.”

(Dillon) The proposed decision in the East Haven case says the four wind turbines would harm the aesthetic beauty of the area. Although the project would be built on the site of an old radar base, it’s near 133,000 acres of former Champion timberland that was protected from development.

Committee Chairman Robert Dostis said the intense interest both for and against wind energy showed the need for legislation that would get the public more involved in deciding Vermont’s energy future.

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

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