A bill designed to increase local involvement in the review process for energy projects was endorsed by a Senate committee Wednesday.
By a 4-1 vote, the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved S.201, a bill that would give communities hosting new energy projects more say in the Public Service Board's review process.
"I think it's a very good planning bill and a good democracy bill," said Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, chair of the committee. "It makes it much easier for people to participate in the siting process."
The bill is a response to concerns that local communities have little say in the board's approval process for energy projects, which is, in part, guided by statewide renewable energy goals.
"It clearly sets a much better process for siting rather than having the unpleasantness associated with the system now," said Hartwell, who backed a failed moratorium on large-scale wind projects last year. "And it puts Vermonters back in charge of where they want things to go."
But environmental groups say the bill slows the state's progress toward meeting its clean energy targets.
"The fundamental purpose of the bill is to make it more difficult to build renewable energy projects in the state," said Paul Burns, executive director of Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
The bill requires the Public Service Board to consider regional energy plans when deciding whether to approve projects. But the bill does not give local planners guidance on how to align their plans with the state's renewable energy goals, Burns said.
Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, vice chair of the committee, voted against the legislation.
The bill includes an application fee that increases with the size of the project. Net-metering systems, which residents use to generate their own electricity, are exempt from the application fee.
The bill also includes a minimum application fee of $20,000 for the construction of meteorological towers, which are used to measure wind potential.
Hartwell said the bill will next be taken up by the Senate Finance Committee.