Vt. Senate Passes Modified Renewable Energy Bill

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After a lengthy debate, the Senate has rejected legislation that would have given local towns more clout in the state review of energy projects that are proposed for their communities.

The Senate vote came after four hours of debate with a veteran senator officially changing his vote at the very last minute.

Instead, the Senate backed an effort that calls for a statewide study of the impact of these projects in the future.

The legislation would have directed the Public Service Board to support a project only if it conforms with a local town plan. Currently, the Board can over rule a town’s opposition if the Board finds that the project is in the greater good of the state.

Caledonia senator Joe Benning strongly supported the change and he showed his colleagues pictures that he said showed the destruction of the ridgeline at Lowell Mountain by a large scale wind project.

"We do not have in place a governmental structure that examines not just the question of what kind of energy do we want to use going forward but also whether we need it," said Benning. "And whether if we need it we can also buy it from across borders and do we have to continue building in the northeast kingdom."

Essex Orleans senator John Rodgers said small towns need to have a greater voice in the review process.

"The bill does not stop any community that wants to proceed with renewable energy but what it does is give my tiny community in Essex County a voice."

And Rutland senator Peg Flory said it’s time for the state to slow down the rush to develop renewable energy projects.

"What this bill does it says hey before we go ahead and do something that’s permanent we as a state really need to step back and do what community members have been doing for years and weigh the plusses and the minuses."

But opponents, including Addison senator Claire Ayer, said the bill would hurt the state’s emerging renewable energy industry.

"Here we are sending a message to the renewable industry of Vermont — which is tens of millions of dollars at the very least — which is: Your future is uncertain, we don’t know what’s going to happen to you."

Chittenden senator David Zuckerman opposed the bill because he says it runs counter to the state’s long term energy policy.

"Wind energy is not perfect no energy creation is perfect," said Zuckerman. "We need to be looking absolutely at every single thing we can do to reduce our energy and carbon footprint on this planet."

Windsor senator Dick McCormack said the legislation raised important environmental concerns but he reluctantly voted against it.

"The question finally is push has come to shove are you serious about global warming or are you not and so I am going to vote against the bill and I’m going to break my own heart by doing it."

An effort to strip the bill of its key provisions initially failed on a tie vote and Lt. Governor Phil Scott broke the tie by voting against the weakened version of the bill.

But then Bennington senator Dick Sears rose to say he was confused about the issue and had voted the wrong way.

He asked the Senate for permission to change his vote, and when that motion was granted, the stripped down bill passed by a vote of 16 to 14. The revised bill will come up for final approval in the Senate later this week.



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