Siting Commission To Hold Meeting In Brattleboro

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A commission reviewing Vermont’s approval process for power projects will hold a public hearing in Brattleboro Wednesday.

The panel is likely to hear from residents of Windham. Voters there revised their town plan years ago to ban commercial wind development.

But despite local objections, an energy developer recently won approval to put up wind measuring towers in Windham and its neighbor Grafton.

From their home in Windham Heath and Mary Boyer can see the hill where three wind test towers have been permitted by the state Public Service Board.

 "That’s it. You’re looking at the ridgeline right there," Heath Boyer says.

The towers will test the site’s potential for commercial wind development. The town of Windham officially opposed the bid by Spanish Energy Company Iberdrola to build the towers.

Mary Boyer chairs the Windham Selectboard. She says test towers make no sense, because the town plan has banned commercial wind development in Windham since 2008.

 "When this application was made by Iberdrola," Boyer says, "We believed the intention of our town plan to prohibit wind development was overwhelmingly clear. We still do."

The Vermont Public Service Board, which decides energy-siting issues, did not agree. The towers were approved through a process designed to streamline permitting for test towers.

Boyer believes the ruling highlights flaws in Section 248, the state’s review law for power generating projects.  She says big wind projects should be governed by Act 250, the state’s land use law. She says it asks more questions and gives more weight to local town plans.

Boyer’s husband Heath says the Section 248 siting process was created at a time when most generating facilities were owned by state-regulated utilities.

 "Historically," he says, "New power plants were permitted under Section 248 by the Public Service Board because utilities came to them and said, ‘We can’t meet demand with the power stations that we have, we need to build something new.’"

Boyer says proposals now come from private companies motivated by tax incentives and the state’s ambitious goals for new renewable power. He says that creates a need for more local input.

Representative Carolyn Partridge is from Windham. She says she has constituents who see commercial wind as an opportunity for in an area where jobs and tax revenues are in short supply.

Partridge says she’s still formulating her own opinion. But she adds that towns like hers are often at a disadvantage with big energy developers.

"They have deep pockets," Partridge says. "And it becomes more and more difficult for Vermonters to represent themselves in dealings with these big corporations."

Governor Peter Shumlin formed the Energy Siting Policy Commission after a series of public battles over ridgetop wind projects.

Vermont Public Service Commissioner Chris Recchia is an ad hoc member of the panel.

 "I think this is a fundamental problem that we have across the state," Recchia says. "We’ve got to balance the need for additional energy projects with local zoning and planning interest. I think everybody needs a voice at the table, and we’ve got to find a better way of considering and reflecting local concerns."

Recchia says he believes the current process, and Section 248, can be changed to accommodate those concerns.

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