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.