Senate kills bill giving towns more input in siting solar projects

A bill to give towns more say in where solar projects are located died on the Senate floor Wednesday night after lawmakers and environmental groups cautioned the legislation would slow renewable energy growth in Vermont.

The Senate voted 21-8 against the bill on second reading.

The Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee approved S.191, which was later amended to require ground-mounted solar installations (as opposed to rooftop solar projects) to undergo the same town zoning and screening restrictions as other commercial development.

Renewable energy advocates were on guard to stop the bill, and Senate lawmakers were quick to kill it on the floor.

The state has established a clean-energy target to source 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050. Senate lawmakers said the bill could chip away a statewide goal designed to serve the public good.

Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, said the legislation would create hurdles for renewable energy progress.

“This bill is going to allow communities with varying degrees of ordinances and setback requirements, and so forth and so on, to actually impede that goal, which is a very ambitious goal, but one that many people agree is a very important goal with respect to sourcing our energy from renewable projects,” Zuckerman said.

The committee heard testimony from town officials in Rutland Town and residents of Charlotte, rural communities that are prime locations for solar installations. With the rapid growth of the solar industry affecting these towns, the committee’s intent was to give communities a say in where projects are located.

The committee said it did not intend to restrict solar projects.

“I don’t think this bill in any way impedes solar,” said committee member Sen. Peter Galbraith, D-Windham. “I think it is way overstated that this is going to set back our solar objectives.”

If the bill had passed, the Public Service Board would not have been able to waive town zoning and screening bylaws in decisions about whether to approve energy generation projects through the Section 248 review process.

The Department of Public Service, which represents ratepayers in utility matters, opposed the rule changes. It was unclear what effect the proposal would have on electricity rates, the department said.

Correction: Residents of Charlotte spoke to lawmakers, not town officials.

John Herrick

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35 Comments on "Senate kills bill giving towns more input in siting solar projects"

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Annette Smith
2 years 1 month ago

This legislature needs to take a hard look at what it is doing to Vermonters. In the name of “all of the above” renewable energy, supporters of building as much renewable energy as fast as possible are ignoring our communities and the needs of the citizens of Vermont. This is from PSB’s decision approving Charlotte Solar http://psb.vermont.gov/sites/psb/files/docketsandprojects/electric/majorpendingproceedings/briefsandreplybriefs/7844Final.pdf Docket No. 7844 Page 39 “Discussion The Neighbors request that we be “mindful of the precedent that will be set if this project is approved[.]” We are concerned that the siting of Standard-Offer projects in scenic rural areas or near residences raises significant… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Annette, I’m concerned that you fundamentally misunderstand the roles of the various players here. The Public Service Board exists only because the legislature created it and continues to support it. Unlike the legislature, the Board does NOT make policy or law; that’s the job of legislators. Instead, the Board’s role is to examine the facts of a given docket in the light of the laws the legislature has passed and of its own prior decisions and those of the courts. Nothing here suggests that the Board went beyond its role in this case, nor does anything support Ms. Smith’s blanket… Read more »

Annette Smith
2 years 1 month ago

The town made a deal because it had experience with the VELCO NRP and didn’t want to engage in another expensive litigation before the PSB. In the last week I have had three contacts with neighbors of proposed solar projects. They are all facing the insurmountable obstacles of trying to participate in the PSB process. One of them got a letter from the Board telling them to hire a lawyer. Who can afford $125 an hour to play in the PSB process? Legislators, please fix the problems you are creating for so many Vermonters. John, if you are so sure… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Annette,

The issue is pretty simple actually. Vermont has lived with the Public Service Board for decades now. I am not alone in believing that it’s worked pretty well.

You don’t have to like the system. But you do have to figure out a better one, and present it convincingly enough that legislators will be motivated to change it.

Fred Woogmaster
2 years 1 month ago

Mr. Greenberg: You said: “I am not alone in believing that it (PSB) has worked very well.” While I know that to be true, much has transpired since the design of the PSB. The number of activities being undertaken today that require(s) PSB involvement is far greater and much more complex. Much more information is available. I am a neophyte to the energy field. What I see, however, is an institution (PSB) in need of reinvention in order to adjust to changing times.. It seems as though – if there is presently total adherence to all procedures and policies than… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Fred, I have two reactions to your comments. The first concerns your suggestion that the Board is “Serving two masters, perhaps? The citizens and The Growth Industry? Perhaps this represents an irreconcilable conflict not anticipated when the PSB was conceptualized.” This is the kind of allegation that gets thrown around in these VT Digger comments pretty lightly. What’s the evidence for it, beyond the fact that the Board has ruled in favor of some projects that you and others here don’t like? When the Board rules in favor of a project you oppose, does that really imply that it’s “serving”… Read more »

Kim Fried
2 years 1 month ago

Making the decisions for towns and citizens with out their inputs is going to be very dangereous for the renewable energy movement. So many of us want to participate yet the Governor and legislature always knows what’s best for us. Sorry, I think we know our towns a little bit better then Montpelier. This attitude started with wind, now it’s moving into the solar arena too. A Vermonter’s concerns and desire to participate in our government process is being killer so very quickly. It’s just a shame and should be illegal.. Beware your town and neighborhood could easily be next.

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

That might be a good point, except that it’s totally false, at least in the Charlotte case. The Board heard from the Town, the Planning board, as well as a neighbor’s group. Each of the issues they raised was considered by a hearing officer and by the Board as a whole.

2 years 1 month ago

I agree that the PSB rubberstamp is harming us. Solar push makes sense in sunbelt. Does someone need to point out to legislature that Vermont is not in the sunbelt?

Want to do something REAL about carbon footprint? How about rationing gas?

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Please explain exactly what you mean by “the PSB rubberstamp .” Annette Smith linked to the Board’s decision above, and if you read it, you’ll see that the Board considered a wide variety of issues raised by the various litigants, which included the Town, the Planning Board, and a neighbor’s group. When I say “considered,” I mean that they described the issue as presented, discussed the hearing officer’s conclusions, and then explain their own conclusions on that particular issue. To the best of my knowledge, that’s what the Board does in EVERY case presented to it (with or without a… Read more »

Stan Hopson
2 years 1 month ago

“How about rationing gas?”

Excuse me, do I still live in the United States of America?

2 years 1 month ago

Vermont has about 35 years to reach its goal of 95% renewable energy, but not 35 minutes to consider the real concerns of people and their towns up down the state. For Senator Zuckerman, please tell us what kind of hurdles cannot possibly be over come in 35 years? How long would it take determine whether or not a buffer of pine trees around an industrial solar farm to protect abutting property owners is appropriate? Not very long, but we’ll have decades to rue the shortsightedness of Senator Zuckerman and his colleagues who voted down S.191. A sad day for… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Peter, Let’s be clear about one point. The legislature disagreed with you, and I gather that they did so in pretty short order. (I wasn’t there; I’ll take your word for it). In doing so, they rejected a proposal to change the law. But that does NOT imply that no one will “determine whether or not a buffer of pine trees around an industrial solar farm to protect abutting property owners is appropriate.” Under existing law, the Public Service Board WILL consider that issue, assuming it is raised when the case is docketed, and since Act 248 includes an aesthetic… Read more »

2 years 1 month ago

John: The “the buffer of pine trees” comment is a metaphor for not giving the solar siting issue and related Vermonter’s concerns due consideration. The issue goes beyond pine tree buffers. It goes to the very character of the state and how effected people have been reacting and treated when confronted with industrial solar and wind development put in their front yards. You, ignore the record at the Public Service Board (PSB) and its advice that concerned Vermonters should go to the legislature for relief on solar and big wind siting. By defeating S.191, the legislature has told Vermonters, that… Read more »

Richard Ratico
2 years 1 month ago

Peter, If you would take the time to follow Annette’s link and actually read the decision of the PSB, as John has said, you will find careful consideration was given to the concerns of the Charlotte residents who testified. At the PSB meeting 75 residents attended. Of those, only 18 spoke, all against the project. One might assume the other 57 were undecided or possibly in favor of it. And what of the many other residents who didn’t attend the meeting? I think it’s safe to say that a majority of the residents of Charlotte approve of the project, as… Read more »

2 years 1 month ago

Richard: I’m not a lawyer and readily admit that I’m not an expert on Public Service Board (PSB) matters. On the other hand, neither am I a weatherman, yet I can tell when its raining. And now its raining when it comes to the siting of industrial wind and solar projects. The PSB repeatedly tells the people that it must follow the law. In the Charlotte matter they said: “Despite our concerns, we do not conclude that the Project violates any of the substantive criteria of Section 248.” And there’s the rub, no legal standards for siting industrial solar and… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Peter, It’s no excuse to say “I’m not a lawyer and readily admit that I’m not an expert on Public Service Board (PSB) matters,” if you’re going to comment on those matters on a regular basis. You go on to say that the rub here is that “no legal standards for siting industrial solar and wind developments exist.” That’s flat out wrong. Act 248 provides a set of criteria – standards if you will – which must be met in order for a project to be determined to be in the “public good.” But since you can’t be bothered to… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Peter, I understood the metaphor and the wider issue. I did not “ignore the record at the Public Service Board,” however. But I’m not so sure you bothered to read it. The Board explains in detail why it believes that it is following the standards set in Section 248, which “reflect the Legislature’s determination of what standards a project must meet before we may determine that a project will promote the public good.” Aesthetic criteria are among them. The Board also notes that the Section 248 criteria “reflect the Legislature’s determination of what standards a project must meet before we… Read more »

2 years 1 month ago

John:

As stated before, some went to the gallows for not accepting the established wisdom that the world was flat.

So I’ll risk the gallows and continue to say that Vermont has it wrong when it comes to unrestrained development of industrial wind and solar projects.

Covering our state with these projects will not make the slightest difference in the fight against global warming. It will save the developers a few dollars at a cost of sacrificing our precious landscapes. It will ultimately be proven to have been for naught.

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Peter:

Please explain what you mean by “unrestrained development of industrial wind and solar projects.” So far, at least, if I’m not mistaken more wind projects have been rejected or impeded than have been built in Vermont. That would actually suggest considerable restraint.

2 years 1 month ago

John: The Act 248 standards you cite are so porous that an 18 wheeler could be driven through them unfettered. There are plenty of tire tracks across many Vermont communities and unhappy people to prove the point. The ACT 248 language you presented states: “(b) Before the Public Service Board(PBS) issues a certificate of public good as required under subsection (a) of this section, it shall find that the purchase, investment or construction: (3) will not adversely affect system stability and reliability;” Now these paragraphs deal with pretty basic technical stuff, no aesthetic subjective judgement required to make a ruling,… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Peter, The general principle here is quite simple. “As far as the rest of the statute is concerned, it has repeatedly failed the people across the state when they have asked for protection of their homes and communities.” If the majority of Vermonters agreed with you, they’d elect legislators who agree with them. But they don’t agree with you, which is why the legislature continues year-in, year-out to maintain a law that you don’t believe in because you reject based on a few cases the results of which you don’t like and why, presented with the opportunity to change it,… Read more »

Louise Garfield
2 years 1 month ago

The pine tree buffer and aesthetics of this debate on PSB rulings on solar and the realtive weight of input from town boards AND property owners carries into cell tower applications. In Putney, and presumably in other towns where AT&T has rights, citizens spoke against and the town did not give approval to a tower that did not meet town regs. Yet AT&T may still get approval from the PSB. And the “need:” that is most emphasized is coverage on Route 91, not even coverage for the sparsely populated town.

Richard Heilman
2 years 1 month ago

This vote reflects the disdain- even contempt – that the PSB and the legislature has for the opinions of Vermonters who live and work beyond the shadow of the statehouse. The state that respected its views enough to ban roadside billboards is now willing to fill those views with equally unsightly solar arrays and its mountains with 747 sized machinery. Everyone endorses moving to thoughtful energy independence but only the geniuses in Montpelier and the investors are willing to let the baby go down the plug with the bathwater.

Townsend Peters
2 years 1 month ago

The article states, without attribution or support, the following: “If the bill had passed, the Public Service Board would not have been able to waive town zoning and screening bylaws in decisions about whether to approve energy generation projects through the Section 248 review process.” In siting review, the Public Service Board has broad authority to weigh the various factors affecting the general good of the state. The bill did not change that authority. There is no reason to think the Board could not have used that authority if an applicant made a case that the general good of the… Read more »

Nancy Fried
2 years 1 month ago

John- Your argument that we should go to the voting booth does not work for the NEK. All of our legislators already came out for a wind moratorium. The problem is that a number of legislators from Burlington, Montpelier and other parts of the state think the NEK is the perfect place to site them along with prisons and the state’s waste. They do not care what we think or want us to have a voice in the process. Nancy Fried

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Nancy Fried, The vote we’re talking about here was not about “a wind moratorium.” It’s true that the 4 senators from Essex Orleans and Caledonia did vote FOR S. 191, but at least one senator from EVERY other part of the state voted against it. Of Vermont’s 4 wind projects, two are sited in your region, 2 are not. “They do not care what we think or want us to have a voice in the process. ” You just HAD a voice in the process. Your voice was outvoted by other voices. That’s the way the democratic process works. If… Read more »

Bob Stannard
2 years 1 month ago

Peter Yankowski would advocate planting white pine around a solar field. I’m surrounded by white they grow to at least 100′ high which would either completely block some of the panels rendering them useless or reduce the number panels because they would have to be set very far back from the trees, the rendering the project ineffective frm a cost stand point.

This, of course, is the perfect solution from one who is doing everything he can think of to thwart the development of renewable energy. Thankfully, he is in the minority in this state.

Nancy Fried
2 years 1 month ago

John- The 2 largest (by far) wind projects are in the NEK and a third even larger one is being proposed. You missed my point. Going to the ballot box won’t do us any good. All of our senators and our representatives are for towns having more say in the PBS process and against additional industrial ridgeline projects here. It is the rest of the state that sees us as a dumping ground. What you call our having a voice in the process was a sham. Nancy Fried

John Greenberg
2 years 1 month ago

Nancy,
You missed my point. Unless the NEK secedes, it’s part of Vermont. In democracies, the majority rules.

When I fought Vermont Yankee, my senators were opposed to the plant. That’s 2 votes out of 30. I made it my business to talk to the other 28.

You can do the same.

Otherwise, tell us how you think our government SHOULD work and what sort of a voice in the process would NOT be a sham.

Fred Woogmaster
2 years 1 month ago

As I read your response to my earlier comment a distinction in our points of view, yours and mine, became clear. You know a great deal about the “energy issue”. I know very little about the “energy issue”. Many of my Vermont neighbors, however, have convinced me that “the process” is seriously flawed, limits citizen input, and through its formality stifles the voice of a large constituency. It is not my intention to malign any of the ‘players’. It is the framework of the system in which the players play that I question. Your agreement with my notion that the… Read more »

annette smith
2 years 29 days ago

Our government is set up with representative democracy, not a populist system. The founding fathers were concerned about the rights of the majority to overrule the rights of minorities. No, we do not live in a populist system, by design.

Mike Barone
2 years 1 month ago

What is becoming obvious between the consenters and decanters of solar, wind or progressive ideologies among the all inclusive movement which has prevailed in Vermont for far to long, is many of the forward thinking ideas which could have , might have served the Vermonter well seem to come under attach from within. Eventually” Single minded ideologies continue to eat each other, just like you have eaten the conservatives right to even present ideas. In Vermont business as usual now means unless one agree with “YOUR” all inclusive openminded , always compromising point of view, you will attempt to destroy… Read more »

Willem Post
2 years 1 month ago

The PSB works pretty well, is true, except when it does not. When GMP was telling stories about Lowell capacity factors of o.3587, “with the bigger rotor”, the PSB took the information as gospel, and issued a CPG. Now it turns out the CF is only o.206 for 2013. Vermont’s other ridge line wind turbines perform only marginally better, about 0.23. For all of the Northeast, not just New England, it is less than 0.25. Such gross underproduction means, it takes about 2.5 years to offset the CO2 of MAKING the wind turbine, instead of 1.5 years, AND much less… Read more »

John Greenberg
2 years 29 days ago

Willem, “I wonder when the PSB is finally going to own up to its malfeasance regarding Lowell.” That’s quite a word: “malfeasance.” It suggests, as does the rest of your remark, that 1) the PSB took GMP’s decision was based on GMP’s representations about the capacity factor of the Lowell project and 2) that the Board is somehow responsible for the economic consequences if the project’s actual capacity factor is less than GMP claimed it would be. You need to back up both propositions. Specifically, from what I can see, the Board went out of its way to make it… Read more »

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