Lt. Gov. Phil Scott is ready to break a tie vote in favor of legislation that has developed into one of the most contentious bills of the session: How to decide where to build energy projects.
Under current law, the Public Service Board can approve an energy project, even if a town opposes it, because the board can rule that the project is in the "greater good of the state."
The Senate bill would change that process and allow the board to support a project only if the proposal is "in conformance" with the town’s plan, one of the considerations under the Act 250 development control law.
Scott supports the bill because he says it’s time to step back and closely review the impact of large scale wind projects
"I do want to be sure this is the approach that we want to take," said Scott. "This isn’t maybe forever, but we’re disturbing our ridgelines."
Scott says there are two key factors that influenced his position. The legislation would expire in a year. And while it applies the criteria of Act 250 to these projects, it keeps the review within the jurisdiction of the PSB.
"It’s just an interim step to slow the process down a bit," he said. "The other aspect of this is that it isn’t a full blown Act 250 review. It doesn’t go through the district commissions."
Gov. Peter Shumlin opposes the bill because he thinks it will discourage the development of renewable energy projects – projects that he says are good for the Vermont economy.
He says he has a simple goal: "Getting off our addiction to oil, building renewables to make sure that we’re generating clean green power for the future," said Shumlin. "And any bill that stands in the way of that doesn’t make a lot of sense to me."
And Shumlin says lawmakers should wait to act on this issue until after a special siting commission issues its report next month.
"I would urge the Legislature to let the siting commission do their work and let’s see what they come up with," the governor said. "And I think we’ll learn a lot from that."
But Scott says action is needed now because there are no guarantees that the recommendations of the siting commission will ever be enacted into law.
"There’s no real mechanism to put that into action, much like it’s somewhat of a study and so there’s nothing there to implement," said Scott. "This at least puts something into place that can be considered over the next year and if it doesn’t work then we’ll fix it."
Supporters and opponents of the bill have waged full scale lobbying campaigns on the issue and both sides believe that they have the votes to win, further raising the prospect that Scott will have to break a tie.