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.
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.