New policy released for wind projects on state lands

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(Host) Vermont environmental officials say state lands should be off-limits to large-scale wind farms. The state Agency of Natural Resources wants to encourage smaller projects where appropriate. But a new policy that was released on Thursday bans commercial wind turbines on state-owned ridgelines.

VPR’s John Dillon reports.

(Dillon) The new policy makes permanent a moratorium imposed over a year ago on the use of state land for industrial scale wind development.

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Elizabeth McLain says officials wanted to clearly define the difference between the small wind generators that could be allowed and the large turbines that can tower above 300 feet.

(McLain) “Large scale renewable energy projects that disturb more than one acre of land and have a commercial purpose, such as wind farms, would not permitted on any ANR-owned lands under this policy. But small-scale wind and other renewable energy applications that disturb less than an acre of land would be encouraged at appropriate state-owned sites.”

(Dillon) McLain says she wants to make it clear that the new policy covers only state lands and is not a blanket statement about wind development in Vermont.

The state held hearings on the public lands issue last spring. The hearings were well attended and more than 350 people filed comments. According to McLain, the hearings and the written comments show that the public wants to promote renewable energy.

(McLain) “And at the same time, people really value their state lands, and particularly the high peaks and the ridgelines and those are very important to folks. And the final policy recognizes both of those strong feelings in the state.”

(Dillon) McLain points out that some state lands carry deed restrictions that would prohibit industrial development.

But Andrew Perchlik, director of Renewable Energy Vermont, says the state is wrong to issue a blanket ban on commercial wind projects on state property. He says other uses – such as cell towers, ski areas, even mines – can be allowed if they clear the permit process.

(Perchlik) “But for some reason, they didn’t want to have commercial wind farms go through the same kind of review process. And they just have this complete prohibition that’s just saying it’s not an allowable use.”

(Dillon) Perchlik says the ban sends the wrong message about wind energy. He says the new policy fails to consider the benefits, including the revenue the state could receive by leasing its property to wind developers.

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

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