Report: Change Vermont energy project reviews

Wednesday May 1, 2013

MONTPELIER (AP) -- The public should have a greater voice in picking the locations of Vermont electricity-generation projects -- like wind turbines -- and the state should speed up the approval of smaller projects, a panel recommended Tuesday.

The commission formed by the governor released its final report Tuesday after six months of work. The recommendations come as Vermont considers more renewable energy projects, with a goal of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.

The panel recommended:

* increasing emphasis on energy planning at state, regional and municipal levels and providing funding and tools to do that;

* simplifying location selection for energy projects, improving predictability and timing in the permitting process, and providing incentives for community-led projects;

* expanding opportunities for public engagement;

* making procedural changes to increase transparency, efficiency and coordination;

* updating environmental, health, and other protection guidelines.

The administration said the recommendations lay out a path for regional plans to receive "substantial consideration" before the Public Service Board, a quasi-judicial panel that supervises Vermont’s public utilities.

The commission’s recommendations "will help towns and regions to better engage in our energy planning and to increase their roles before any proposed projects are considered," said Public Service Department Commissioner Christopher Recchia. "I believe the collaborative, bottom-up approach the commission outlined will guide us toward better outcomes for energy development."

The three-member Public Service Board has seen consistent growth in the number of electric generation applications in the past decade, the report said.

The projects have brought up new issues related to land use, natural resources and health impacts requiring updated location guidelines and regulations, the report said. The processes currently in place were set many years ago when only centralized power plants existed in Vermont.

Gov. Shumlin issued an executive order on Oct. 2 to create the panel, known as the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission. In its six months of work, the commission did site visits and held public hearings.

The Vermont Natural Resources Council, one of the organizations that called for a commission to address concerns about new energy projects, said the report offered helpful recommendations to move smaller scale projects forward faster while requiring a more robust public engagement process for larger projects.

The report "offers some solid recommendations to adjust how and where energy generation projects are sited to ensure that Vermont adequately avoids the degradation of critical resources while significantly increasing our reliance on clean energy," said Brian Shupe, VNRC’s executive director.


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