Senate Bill Would Give Towns More Weight In Energy Projects

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The Vermont Senate will debate a bill next week that would significantly change the way that renewable energy projects are reviewed by the state.

The bill would give towns much more authority to ban projects.

Backers say the bill is needed because they don’t think the Public Service Board pays enough attention to the views of some of the towns where new energy projects have been proposed.

The board can approve a project, even if it’s strongly opposed by residents of a town, if the board finds the project is "in the greater public good." The proposed bill would require the board to give greater weight to a town’s view.

Caledonia senator Joe Benning wants the board to respect the view point of the town and that’s something he says doesn’t happen now.

"And yet the Public Service Board comes along and says, ‘Well, yeah we can appreciate you don’t want all that. But you don’t have a right because we in the state policy say we want all renewable, all the time,’" Benning said.

He then added, "If it’s good, it’s good. We’re going to have it whether you want it or not. That’s not the way that Vermont usually does business."

Gabrielle Stebbins is the head of Renewable Energy Vermont – a group that strongly opposes this bill.  Stebbins says it’s critical to develop renewable energy sources throughout the state and she says this bill would hurt that effort.

"We have lived in 100 years of easy energy, easy, cheap fossil  fuels. And now we look at a very challenging new environment," said Stebbins. "In which, yes, part of that is change and we are looking at what that means, which is, yes you see solar panels and, yes, you see wind turbines."

Some homeowners who live near wind, solar, and biomass projects have complained that the projects have hurt land prices in their communities.  Stebbins says people need to see the bigger picture.

"We’ve got to zoom out," she said. "It is not just about aesthetics. It is about if you want to turn on your lights. If you want to drive your car. If you want to heat your home. How are we going to do it while making this planet sustainable while having jobs and energy security."

But Benning says local complaints are an important part of this debate.

"I’m going to ask you to zoom back in because these projects are having very real impacts on very real Vermonters," said Benning. "These towers have an impact that unfortunately the PSB is not really taking into account."

The full Senate is expected to consider the legislation by the end of next week and both supporters and opponents of the bill say the outcome of that vote appears to be in doubt at this time.

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