Senate energy committee OKs bill on public input on energy project siting review

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.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, and Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, heard testimony on whether to regulate the state’s shorelands during a public hearing Wednesday night in Montpelier. Both serve on the Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, and Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, members of the Natural Resources and Energy Committee, hearing testimony in January. Photo by John Herrick/VTDigger

“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.

The state’s nonbinding Comprehensive Energy Plan sets a goal for the state to be powered by 90 percent renewable energy sources by 2050.

Burns said he believes the bill will not pass a full Senate vote. He said lawmakers should create policy to support renewables and energy efficiency.

The bill also requires developers to present the board with a full carbon cycle analysis of the project – the emissions created during construction and operation.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex/Orleans, said construction of renewable energy projects, such as industrial-scale ridgeline wind, can be energy intensive.

“And so I think there should be a full accounting so that the public can say, ‘Yes, look at all the energy we wasted there, maybe we should be doing it in another way,’” he said during an earlier committee meeting.

Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, vice chair of the committee, voted against the legislation. She said she supports better planning for energy projects, but the bill did not make the point clear.

“I believe that we need to have solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently so that it doesn’t have unintended consequences,” she said.

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.

John Herrick

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45 Comments on "Senate energy committee OKs bill on public input on energy project siting review"

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Randy Koch
2 years 3 months ago

What a crashing reminder of how far VPIRG has abandoned the ideals of the Joan Mulhern era under Paul Burns. He sounds like the developers in the 1980’s who so bitterly opposed the citizen participation provisions of Act 250 including “materially assisting” parties. There is another way of looking at the present proposal, not as a weapon against the wind turbines he so passionately desires but as a small step toward democratizing economic decision-making.

Kim Fried
2 years 3 months ago
Thank you Natural Resourse and Energy Committee. At least this Senate Committee is trying to solve a major state wide problem. It was the Governor who last year appointed the Special Siting Commission to identify problems and recommend solutions. This Committee is using their extensive report and trying to solve some of these obvious problems. Paul Burns has only his interests in mind, not the interests of Vermont citizens that are trying to participate in the democratic process. The PSB was found wanting and this bill will make it easier for citizens that are being directly impacted by hugh industrial… Read more »
Stan Shapiro
2 years 3 months ago

Paul Burns has a lot of developer mouths to feed .VPIRG functions because of the money it receives from the renewable energy-developer- political complex.That has nothing to do with the environment. Keep your eyes on the progressives who will vote against this bill.Anyone who fearfully denies public input should go try living in the Ukraine.The nonbinding 2050 goal of 90% renewables needs to be relooked at with a critical eye not as a policy grounded in blind faith.

Annette Smith
2 years 3 months ago
Good point, Stan. There are a number of groups focused on the 2050 90% renewable goal as something written in stone, and they are operating under the Energy Action Network eanvt.org umbrella. I have been looking into just one aspect of their “plan” for homeowners to switch to air source heat pumps fueled by electricity as one way to persuade homeowners to reduce fossil fuel consumption. Since I live off grid with solar, I have a good lens through which to evaluate just how much more electricity would be required to run this technology. I determined that it would require… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago
Annette, Vermont needs a building energy code that requires all NEW buildings to be “net-zero-energy”, or “surplus-energy”. This can easily be done with insulating and sealing the building envelope (R-40 walls, R-60 roof) and using R-5 windows and R-8 doors. The most important part is an R-20 basement with the insulation on the OUTSIDE of the concrete so it acts as a thermal mass, AND R-20 blueboard under the slab, AND R-20, 100 PSI blueboard UNDER the footing. Regular blueboard is 25 PSI. Add PV solasrand thermal solar systems to such buildings and they will easily be surplus-energy buildings. When,… Read more »
Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago

All sources of energy have costs and consequences. Some are worse than others.
http://news.sky.com/story/1214600/fukushima-deaths-now-higher-than-in-tsunami

Townsend Peters
2 years 3 months ago

Vermont has building energy standards, adopted by rule by the Dept. of Public Service. Have you ever asked the legislature to direct the Dept. to achieve net zero, or petitioned the Dept. to modify its rules to do the same?

Annette Smith
2 years 3 months ago

The PSB has been telling citizens that they understand there are problems with their process, and they should take their concerns to the legislature. Here is a 4 minute video compilation of interactions between one citizen and the PSB that took place on several occasions from 2011 to 2014, worth watching if you want a better understanding of the dynamics:

2 years 3 months ago
Annette: Thanks for providing the PSB video. After watching the video, I repeat my comments from yesterday on this very issue: “Now what do you call a situation where a developer comes into a town or neighborhood and plants a 9000+ solar panel farm across the street from peoples’ homes with no compensation paid? Well, this is happening now in Rutland Town with such a proposed development. What is this called? In Vermont its called legal. The PSB will tell the families living across the street, hey if you don’t like it, talk to the legislature and get the law… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago
Sen. John Campbell did Vermonters a huge service by replacing Sen. Lyons with Sen. Benning (courageously exercising his right as majority leader), i.e., breaking the undemocratic, self-serving, special-interest coddling, people-excluding Shumlin/Chap/Klein/Lyons/DPS/PSB, et al., RE chain. Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, vice chair of the committee, voted against the legislation: “I believe that we need to have solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently so that it doesn’t have unintended consequences,” What unintended consequences? Sen. Snelling should display more intelligence and spell them out, instead of stating generalities. Would an unintended consequence be adversely impacted people finally having a say in what… Read more »
Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago

Here is an article that explains the Fukushima Japan RE situation in detail:
http://www.sustainablebusiness.com/index.cfm/go/news.display/id/25496?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+SBInvestorNews+(SustainableBusiness.com+Investor+News)

Here is an article that explains why radioactive water is leaking yet again at the triple nuclear meltdown site in Fukushima:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-26254140

2 years 3 months ago

Richard,

Your second item is pure scare mongering and has no relevance to this article and to Vermont.

As you can see from my above comment I am in favor of PV solar and thermal solar systems on net-zero-energy housing.

Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago
2 years 3 months ago

Richard,
It has no relevance to Vermonters!

Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago

Willem,

The moderators here apparently disagree with you.

2 years 3 months ago

Correction,
Sen. Hartwell replaced Sen. Lyons

Annette Smith
2 years 3 months ago

Guillaume, that’s a very good question. The idea is that the majority of Vermonters are in favor of wind energy. So if that is true, what is to fear from towns having a say. After all, if the idea is right, then there should be a lot of town plans that say “we want wind energy.” Glad you see the humor in it all.

2 years 3 months ago
Two points: Sen. Snelling said: “I believe that we need to have solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently so that it doesn’t have unintended consequences,” Sen. Snelling, do you believe the renewable energy legislation enacted to date, which has proven to be so controversial and many feel is harmful meets your standard of “ solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently”? It appears to growing numbers of Vermonters that present renewable energy laws and policies are not the product of “solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently…..” that you call for. To the contrary, they are laws and policies… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago
Peter, “Sen. Snelling said: “I believe that we need to have solid legislation that is thought through sufficiently so that it doesn’t have unintended consequences.” Sen. Snelling probably did not know, as do most amateur energy sector meddlers, that the SPEED program would produce energy at 3 to 4 times NE grid prices, surely an “unintended consequence”. But, I warned about 4 years ago, when the RE programs were being cooked up by insiders, behind closed doors, that the feed-in tariffs would produce expensive energy, the extra costs of which would be charged to the electric bills of already-struggling households… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago

“I was told by Rep. Cheney, now on the PSB, that the impact on rates would be minor, etc., i.e., being blown off.”

She was exactly correct. The impact has been virtually zero.

2 years 3 months ago

John,

Virtually zero?

But had these underperforming expensive projects produced more energy, i.e., higher capacity factors, the impacts would have been greater, and will be greater as more such inefficient project build-outs proceed in the future.

As we all know by now, Vermont already has the 4th highest electric rates in the US, right after Connecticut and Hawaii and Alaska. Yikes.

Artificially making it worse by subsidizing the building of more such RE projects is good for heavily-subsidized RE businesses, but bad for already-struggling Vermont households and businesses in a near zero-growth economy.

2 years 3 months ago
Willem: As you know, the issue is electricity prices tomorrow, not prices yesterday. Notice John Greenberg’s choice of verb tenses in describing price increases. He elects to talk about prices of yesterday versus tomorrow. John’s a smart guy and knows exactly what he’s saying and what’s coming and he doesn’t want to talk about it…..that being the coming electricity price increases. When it comes to future electricity prices, severe myopia is the operative condition suffered by many of Vermont’s politicians and energy policy makers. Once the state moves anywhere remotely close to the 90% renewable energy goal, electricity prices will… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Peter, First, I will respond briefly to your suggestion that “the issue is electricity prices tomorrow, not prices yesterday.” Perhaps that’s the issue you want to discuss NOW, but it isn’t the issue Willem DID discuss and to which I responded. He quoted Margaret Cheney as saying (years ago, I presume) that SPEED’s impact on prices would be minor, and I merely pointed out that she was right: it HAS been minor. But since you NOW want to talk about the future, let’s do so. Unlike you and Willem Post, I am not a prophet: I don’t know what future… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Willem, “But had these ….” As I’m told they say in Israel, “If grandmother had wheels, she’d be a bus.” The facts are that SPEED has had virtually not impact on overall Vermont electric prices, precisely as you say Margaret Cheney predicted. Now you argue: “Vermont already has the 4th highest electric rates in the US,” as though SPEED had something to do with THAT. New England has had higher electric rates than most of the US for decades,- probably forever. Your suggestion that Vermont’s high prices are caused by SPEED is complete bunk for which there is NO evidence.… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago
John, 4th highest electric rates, and a Cost of Living index of about 120, with the mean real household income only 3% greater than the US average, means Vermont’s standard of living is already about 17% below the US average. Yikes. The bottom 60% of households have had DECLINING real incomes since about 2000. Look around and you will see the rundown shabbiness everywhere. Friends of mine came to visit from Norway and were shocked. It would be immoral to add more expensive SPEED energy and ridge line energy to the mix to make matters worse for already-struggling households and… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago

Willem,

I’ve responded to most of your points already.

“It is completely irrational to add more generating capacity, MW, when NE already has an excess of capacity, due to the lack of load growth since 2007.”

Thanks to the early retirement of a number of generating plants (including VY), New England’s glut will disappear as of 2017: http://www.vermonttoday.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/RH/20140206/NEWS02/702069853. As of the auction for that year, it has been replaced with a very slight shortfall: http://www.iso-ne.com/nwsiss/pr/2014/fca8_initial_results_02052014.pdf

Income and cost of living statistics are irrelevant since SPEED has had no significant impact on power rates in Vermont.

2 years 3 months ago
John, People ARE different. Peter and I offer mostly rants. You offer mostly calm, level-headed, erudite, reasoned, discourse. I think, promoting failed government programs is not a virtue. I think doing RE before EE is merely an irrational chase after subsidies; pouring water in a leaking bucket, putting the horse behind the cart. “Yet, as I have repeatedly pointed out, the price curve for solar power, in particular, has been heavily downward” If that were so, why does the PSB set a 27 c/kWh feed-in tariff for PV solar? Much higher than Germany!!! Could it be the tariff is set… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Willem, You challenge my statement that solar costs are declining, by asking “If that were so, why does the PSB set a 27 c/kWh feed-in tariff for PV solar?” First, your logic is wrong. If I tell you that the cost of caviar is declining, that does NOT mean that it is cheap! It means that caviar costs less now than it did in the past. Second, I don’t set Board policy, and actually Board policy has nothing to do with the price of solar anywhere BUT in Vermont. My statement was solar prices in general, and was not particular… Read more »
Coleman Dunnar
2 years 3 months ago
John: You state “If the price curve continues downward, it’s not particularly a reach to suggest that within a decade or so, it will reach grid parity in places like New England.” True at some point in time solar will reach parity with the grid. The point is today it doesn’t. So why spend the money now. It’s not as if the demand for solar products in small Vermont is driving the price of solar down. Wasn’t be enough to keep Solyndra, et al a float. There is actually an incentive for the RE industry to push for the rush,… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago

Coleman,

Reasonable points. Unfortunately, I am heading out of town and have no time to respond to them.

I may do so tomorrow night or after, when I return.

John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Coleman, You make 3 points. 1) You accept the notion that solar power may well reach grid parity, which was my original point. I COULD easily stop there, but the points you raise are too interesting to leave them without a response. 2) You ask, as a matter of policy, why Vermont should pay more for renewables now if by waiting, we can pay less later. The answer to that is far from simple, and this is not the place to attempt a full answer. Instead, let me suggest some points you appear to leave out of the equation. —… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago

John,

“She was exactly correct. The impact has been virtually zero.”

You are using “has been”, whereas my comment
was

“OVER THE YEARS, that impact will be major, further hollowing out Vermont’s struggling, tax-burdened middle class, in the same manner it is burdening the less and less flush, German middle class.”

My statement is correct, because it is rational.

Anytime expensive SPEED energy is rolled into rate schedules, already-struggling households and businesses are shafted, while in-state and out-of-state solar project owning multi-millionaires fatten their tax shelters.

John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Peter and Willem, You guys have become quite the grammarians. Greenberg is using the past tense when we’re looking forward, you’ve now both claimed. (Yankowski: “Notice John Greenberg’s choice of verb tenses in describing price increases. He elects to talk about prices of yesterday versus tomorrow.” Post: “You are using “has been”, whereas my comment was “OVER THE YEARS, that impact will be major …”) There are 2 problems with your new claim. The first is that it happens to be false: I responded to Willem’s comment which was, wait for it, in the past tense: “But, I warned about… Read more »
John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago

SPEED originated in 2005, so when I wrote 10 years I should have said 8-9 years. My bad.

Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago

Willem,

Amateur or pro, you well know the wholesale price of electricity in Vermont is largely determined by the cost of natural gas.

The current, TEMPORARILY, low price is a direct result of fracking. See the movies Gasland and GaslandII for the grisly details. Taken in the context of the available alternatives, wind and solar installed NOW are a bargain.

Here is an article that explains the Vermont RE situation in detail.
http://www.dangersoffracking.com/

2 years 3 months ago
Richard, That means we have a few years to build HVDC transmission systems to Canada to obtain plentiful near-CO2-free, hydro energy under long term contract at about 6 c/kWh, adjusted for NE grid prices. No need to be irrational and handicap Vermont’s economy with home-grown SPEED energy at 19.2 c/kWh. See my above comments. There is no way Vermont’s economy can function with such high energy prices and have enough money left over to pay the taxes for an increasingly more bloated government. As you well know, the cost of living index in Vermont is about 120, but the mean… Read more »
Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago
Willem, You wrote: “That means we have a few years to build HVDC transmission systems to Canada…” In your contortions to twist the facts concerning the SPEED program you may not have noticed the ongoing debate next door in New Hampshire over the proposed Northern Pass project. The local objections there to that HVDC system are essentially identical to the ones raised here in VT over wind turbines. While you and the navel gazing NIMBYs in your posse refuse to accept responsibility for producing our own, clean, renewable energy in state, I find it the height of hypocrisy that your… Read more »
2 years 3 months ago

Richard,

“contortions, twist, navel-gazing, posse, height of hypocrisy?”

Such words detract from your message.

The grossly-excessive 27 c/kWh solar feed-in tariff set by the PSB is about 2.5 times the feed-in tariffs in Germany.

http://www.germanenergyblog.de/?p=15234

Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago
Willem, The words would detract were they not so sadly true. The fact that you would choose to falsely compare Vermont’s relatively new system with Germany’s mature system in the very same comment in which you protest my characterization says far more than I ever could about the accuracy of those words. As you well know, but hate to admit, Germany has had the most successful experience with FITs of any country in the world and has been a model for similar programs in many other states, including Vermont’s. YEARS AGO, when Germany’s percentage of renewables was comparable to what… Read more »
Annette Smith
2 years 3 months ago
Guillaume, yes I think you are correct. Three towns have had positive votes about wind, though one was not in favor. Though it is spun as a favorable vote, Sheffield people voted to continue studying the project and they were told there would be another opportunity to vote yes or no but that never happened. The other two towns on the yes side are Readsboro and Lowell. Readsboro’s vote was for turbines about 100 feet shorter than Iberdrola is currently proposing, and it is common for town officials to speak in favor of the project and the money. Now that… Read more »
Pete Novick
2 years 3 months ago

As for me, I am working with three major toy companies to design and manufacture a jigsaw puzzle – the kind your favorite aunt used to give you for your birthday – that features one of those take-your-breath-away Vermont hillsides in full autumn splendor.

Oh, did I mention the nine 400 ft. tall wind turbines gracing the ridge line?

“Aunt Betty, I think there are some pieces missing from this puzzle!”

Boy, you can say that again…

Rob Pforzheimer
2 years 3 months ago

It doesn’t matter how much “public input” there is if the PSB continues to ignore it as they have in the past, and with the newest pro wind board member, Margaret Cheney, will no doubt continue to do.

2 years 3 months ago
Richard, As I stated earlier, David Hallquist, CEO of VEC, has stated the energy cost of heavily-subsidized 1,000 kW systems, and up, is about 17 c/kWh. The PSB uses, for some unexplained reason, 27 c/kWh. As I stated earlier, it is likely the PSB tariff is set so high to attract multi-millionaire investors with tax shelters from all over the US to a good deal offered by poor Vermont, just so Klein and Co can CLAIM solar SPEED is soooooo successful, whereas, in fact, it is producing energy at 19.2 c/kWh, BECAUSE OF THE TOO HIGH SOLAR FEED IN TARIFF.… Read more »
Richard Ratico
2 years 3 months ago

Willem,

I’m quite sure my “vested interest” pales in comparison to David Hallquist’s as the CEO of a utility and perhaps yours as well, since you have previously bragged about being a member of the 1%.

As usual, you fail to address my comments. My comments stand.

John Greenberg
2 years 3 months ago
Willem, Please cite a source for your 27 cent figure for what the PSB is using. Here’s what I see. For solar projects, the figure is 25.7 cents, levelized for 25 years. For biomass, it’s 125 cents levelized, or .121 for the first year, rising to .141 in the 20th year. For farm methane, it’s .141 cents levelized or .136 cents in the first year rising to .15 in the 20th. For hydro, it’s .123 levelized, or .119 in the first year rising to .131 in the 20th year. For landfill gas, it’s .090 levelized, or .087 in the first… Read more »
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