A stripped-down version of S.30 sailed smoothly through the Senate on Thursday, and now it’s headed to a skeptical House committee.
The controversial Senate bill, which initially proposed a three-year moratorium on utility scale wind developments, was gutted on Tuesday. The previous version of the bill would have given municipalities greater leverage over the permitting process by applying criteria from Act 250, the state’s governing land-use law.
The draft that the Senate passed allocates $75,000 for a series of economic, environmental and health assessments associated with wind turbine projects that the Public Service Department would carry out. The bill would refine the structure of the Joint Energy Committee, and it would charge the committee with reviewing the studies and the findings of the energy siting commission, which was created by Gov. Peter Shumlin in response to issues raised with the current siting process.
The bill also makes clear that commercial construction, including that of electric power plants, is prohibited “within any state park or forest.”
Rep. Tony Klein, who chairs the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, was staunchly against the initial version of S.30. As the bill comes to his committee, he says his team will focus solely on the studies.
“We will be focusing in on what it is that’s going to be studied and what the tone is going to be,” he said. “My first impression of the read, and I intend to change that, is that it seems to be implying that renewables are bad, and I would rather change it to start with the premise that renewables are good.”
That means Klein’s committee will take limited testimony.
“It’s not going to be an open door policy because it’s a study and there are certain things that are being asked to be studied,” he said. “I don’t need to hear from neighbors.”
While no amendments were officially proposed to the bill, two were entertained in the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee prior to the vote.
Sen. Tim Ashe crafted one of the amendments, which would have included electric and natural gas transmission lines in the proposed studies. Ashe’s amendment also tweaked some of the bill’s language, but did not propose any policy changes. He said his amendment stemmed from concerns he heard from Chittenden, Addison and Rutland county residents about the siting of transmission lines.
Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex Orleans, proposed the other amendment. His amendment would have required energy generation applicants to submit project plans to municipal and regional planning commissions six months prior to a permit request with the Public Service Board — rather than 45 days, as is current practice.
“I think there were a lot of important things that got stripped out of S.30,” he said. “If we’re not going to do anything to help those small towns have a voice in front of the Public Service Board, then at least give them a little bit more of a warning.”
While Rodgers was a strong proponent of the original bill, Ashe was not.
Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, is chair of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which approved the version of the bill with the Act 250 language. He said his committee asked the two senators to table their amendments so that S.30 could move to the House with strong support from the body.
Hartwell said that while the amendments were tabled, they might find their way into other bills later this session. He also said that he does not expect language from Act 250 to come back into play this session and a moratorium on wind projects is off the table.
“There is not going to be any moratorium language,” he said. “I’m not sure of everything, but I think I’m sure of that.”
Gabrielle Stebbins, director of the trade organization Renewable Energy Vermont, lobbied hard against the moratorium and the Act 250 criteria. She said she would not breathe a sigh of relief until the end of the session.
“We will certainly be keeping our eye out because that is still something certain senators are very much wanting,” she said about the moratorium and Act 250 language. “If you look at last year’s history on the Senate floor, we did see amendments like that.”
As far as the current version of S.30 goes, she said she doesn’t have any major qualms.
“I think it’s meaningful the senators want to continue to have this conversation and this debate because, realistically, we need to move forward together,” she said. “And if that’s continuing the conversation, then let’s do it.”