Business & Economy

Shumlin administration forms commission to assess siting process for industrial wind and other energy generation projects

Elizabeth Miller, the commissioner of the Department of Public Service, and Gov. Peter Shumlin.

The Shumlin administration is reassessing how regulators involve the public in the permitting process for electricity projects.

On Tuesday, Gov. Peter Shumlin issued an executive order to form a five-person commission charged with evaluating and proposing ways to streamline the state’s permitting process for commercial energy generators and exploring how to better incorporate public participation into that process.

The decision comes after heated opposition to mountaintop industrial wind projects and lengthy permitting periods for solar projects.

According to Elizabeth Miller, commissioner of the department of public service, the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission was formed to update an outdated model of permitting energy generators.

She said that while the annual number of applicants for such permits has more than doubled over the past decade, rising from seven in 2001 to 17 in 2011, the permitting process has remained the same.

Furthermore, she said, numerous public officials, citizens and company representatives have complained that the process is lengthy, disjointed and lacks public participation. During an interview with VTDigger last week, gubernatorial candidate Randy Brock made the same complaint, adding that if he were governor he would centralize the permitting process.

Gabrielle Stevens, director of Renewable Energy Vermont, issued a statement on Wednesday that said she was “cautiously optimistic” the commission could improve the process.

“Vermont is one of the few states that has a permitting process with no end-date, resulting in projects that have taken years for approval,” she added.

The five commissioners appointed by Miller will assess the state’s process, analyze how other New England states process energy permits and propose recommendations for improving Vermont’s system. To do that, the commission is being asked to prepare a report that should explore such items as alternative dispute resolution, applied standards, public approval processes, methods for monitoring environmental impacts and permit coordination.

Miller said that while Vermont courts employ such measures as alternative dispute resolutions, Vermont’s Public Service Board — charged with issuing permits to energy generators — does not.

The report is due to the governor and several legislative committees by April 30, 2013.

The commissioners may elect a chair to lead the group, and Miller expects them to meet for the first time by the end of October. She said they will receive a reimbursement for mileage and per diem for their time, but did not know the exact amount of the per diem on Wednesday. She and Deborah Markowitz, secretary of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), are “ex officio” members of the commission.

The commission is comprised of:
• Scott Johnstone, who is the executive director of Vermont Energy Investment Corp. and former secretary of the ANR.
• Gaye Symington, who is the former speaker of the Vermont House.
• Louise McCarren, who was the first female chair of the Vermont Public Service Board.
• Jan Eastman, who is the former president of the Snelling Center for Government.
• Jim Matteau, who is the former director of the Windham Regional Commission.

If you read us, please support us.

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer.

We moderate every comment. Please go to our FAQ for the full policy.

Andrew Stein

Recent Stories

  • Great move to form this commission. This is a very talented and experienced group of people who love VT and want to do the right thing.Kudos to Peter Shumlin and Elizabeth Miller for listening and creating a process that will address all points of view and craft a way forward. Bravo!
    love/light, Hinda Miller

  • Cynthia Browning

    It will be interesting to see what this commission comes up with. But all its members were appointed by Commissioner Miller, who was appointed by the Governor. I don’t see how those of us who have been critical of the current process under this administration can necessarily have great confidence in the ultimate recommendations, despite the qualifications of those appointed.

    News coverage elsewhere called the commission “independent” — I don’t see that word in the Digger piece, but it is still worth pointing out that just based on how it was created, it cannot really be seen as structurally independent. We will have to wait and see if it is intellectually and politically independent.

    Now if Annette Smith had been appointed to this commission …..

    Rep. Cynthia Browning, Arlington

  • David Dempsey

    Shumlin has appointed his appointee to appoint the 5 appointees who will be on this commission that will investigate how to improve the permitting process so that industrial alternative energy projects can be approved faster. What else can you expect from an administration that allows the State and local police to investigate themselves and a States Attorney who, in 15 years on the job, has cleared every police officer that has been investigated of any wrong doing.

  • Agree with Cynthia Browning and David Dempsey’s insights into commission appointments. Where is the man on the street? Where is there a member not trailing in his/her wake the bars and scars of government alligiance, coming on board a commission with open eyes and a cynical heart? For the record in Vermont’s law-enforcement arena of fairness towards the tasered and the killed is bad. Neither the new health board nor this announced commission to deal more promptly and more wisely with alt energy on a commercial scale stir much hope. All these commissions should have one lottery slot, with the names of every Vermonter out there in it. They might be stupid, anti-government, Republican to the core, gay or back or, heaven forbid, an Ivy League grad whose roots to go the Mayflower. But for Christ sakes, break the bureaucratic process here. It sucks.

  • Richard First

    We need an independent commission to study all of the projects that have been approved, speak with neighbors and neighboring communities of both private and public net metered projects. Find out from the people directly impacted, how the process worked for them. Ditto on the cost benefit of all of these projects, both financially and environmentally. There is value in studying other state’s models, but most importantly, we should trust the people of Vermont as a whole to come up with a neighborly, well studied, smart solution to this and most problems, much more than the folks in neighboring states who have different issues to deal with. Keep us posted VT Digger!

  • Jim Wiegand

    Jim Wiegand • 3 minutes ago

    Gov. Peter Shumlin has named a new commission to only “consider ways” ways to improve how energy projects are sited and approved in Vermont. People will be allowed vent, but he will do nothing.

    Trust me, he is still going to ram these monsters down your throats. His commission is nothing but a stall tactic. I have seen time and time again with the wind industry. While he is acting like the problem will be addressed in a Democratic way, it is a charade. Look at Shumlin’s Website: http://www.shumlinforgovernor….
    Notice that there is a visual plug for the wind industry along with the slogan “let’s keep the momentum going”. As for the hand picked panel, they are nothing but a bunch of cardboard bureaucratic shills.

    Mr Shumlin, do some research and you will learn what the World is waking up to. You will find out that the Wind industry is a corporate scam on the taxpayer with terrible consequences. It is an industry that rigs everything while creating industrial bone yards out of pristine ecosystems and never-ending genocide sinkholes for bird populations.

    This industry that Shumlin thinks so highly of is also quickly loosing favor with the public. In a recent New York Times poll on tax credits for this industry, two thirds of the respondents said NO to this industry. In a year or two the number opposing this industry will be even far greater.

    The “lets keep the momentum going” slogan says what Vermont can expect from your Governor, as many damn turbines as possible.

  • The forming of the new commission had no input from the public.

    It is a layer of undemocratic sham added to the PSB setup, which also was formed without public input, i.e., another sham.

    This has nothing to do with reducing CO2 emissions and everything to do with federal and state subsidized, crony-capitalism for the top 1%, while bamboozling the lay public with meaningless PR mantras (fighting global warming, climate change, as if Vermont’s puny efforts would ever make a difference), and adding the extra RE costs and fees to household and business electric rates.

  • Steve Comeau

    Why so many negative comments on this commission? It seems that moving toward increased transparency and citizen participation will be a good thing. Sadly the energy debate in Vermont and this country is dominated by misinformed and extreme views on both the left and the right. Perhaps some reasonable voices will be heard and the nonsense will be exposed.

    If “industrial alternative” energy projects can be approved faster, that is much better than the alternative of being stuck in the past, believing that finite resources are infinite. We need to move ahead on deploying renewable energy solutions state-wide, but with a realistic understanding that renewables are limited solution with downsides that need to be addressed.

    Cheers to Governor Shumlin for his leadership on this complex issue.

    • Lance Hagen

      Because this commission is just a diversionary ploy by Shumlin to defuse the topical from becoming an election year issue. I can hear the governor saying ‘Yes, I have heard the people and have decided to appoint a commission to study the issue …….. and they will coming back with their recommendations after the elections”.

      Just what we need, another study group. What great discoveries are they going to find, that have not already been expressed?

      Anyone want to bet, that they come back with a recommendation of “full speed ahead” with amply application of ‘regulatory relief’ (to circumvent the regulatory processes they put in place).

      • krister adams

        Lance and Friends: Cynical much? Distrustful much? It appears that no matter who it is and whoever does what, as long as they do not march to your desired drum, sucks. Anti-wind folks have been howling & whining for a long time. Shumlin has heard this and decided to slow down, have some smarter-than-hell people consider the ramifications, including neighbors who may be impacted. Why is this not a good thing?

  • john burton

    why is vermont so gung ho over wind? germany has solar facilities capable of generating the power of the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants. solar is three times more productive than wind.

    • krister adams

      John: I agree that solar has huge potential and shouuld be utilized much, much more in VT on big scales. But I feel wind should be utilized also. Unfortunately, if someone (Shumlin) proposed big solar farms there would be protests as well. Guess people love spending/wasting money and polluting the hell out of our home.

      • Krister/John,

        Germany’s 2011 solar output was 18 TWh (billion kilowatt-hours) of electricity in 2011, about 3% of total electricity production, after spending more than 200 billion euros on subsidies and feed in tariffs as high as 65 euro cent/kWh during the past 12 years.

        Germany’s 2010 generation mix was: 23% nuclear, 23% lignite, 18% hard coal, 14% natural gas, 16.8% renewables, 5.2% heating oil, pumped hydro, others. The renewables were: 6.2% wind, 4.7% biomass, 3.2% hydro, 2% solar, 0.8% waste.

        German nuclear production = 23% of 600 TWh = 138 TWh, about 7.66 times greater than PV solar.


        Dispatch Value: Solar energy is significantly different from conventional gas, coal, nuclear and hydro energy. Conventional generators are controllable and dispatchable on short notice, whereas solar energy is a product of the rising and setting sun, and it is weather-dependent, i.e., from variable cloudiness to complete cloudiness, fog, and shade, dew, snow and ice on panels, etc. Its supply is unpredictable and uncontrollable AND CANNOT BE TURNED OFF OR CURTAILED. Therefore, it has zero-dispatch value to a grid operator.

        Capacity: A grid operator needs to have available an adequate mix of generating capacity to serve peak demands for long-term planning purposes. The mix varies from grid to grid. Solar systems could have a capacity value in this mix, but insufficient systems are in place to determine it, except possibly in Southern Germany, Southern California, Spain, etc.

        Variability: As scattered clouds move over a large number of PV systems, as in Southern Germany, Southern California, Spain, etc. they cause rapid, local decreases in output which adversely affects grid stability.

        Example: One thousand roof- and field-mounted PV systems blanketed by a moving a square-mile cloud could cause a wavelike output decrease of several MW that moves with the cloud. With multiple clouds, the grid voltage and frequency would become unstable over a large geographical area.

        Unlike wind energy, solar energy CANNOT be turned off or curtailed, as in Southern Germany with about 1 million PV systems, when on sunny summer days solar output surges from 0 MW in the morning to about 12,000 – 14,000 MW at noon and the energy in excess of demand has to be partially exported to France and the Czech Republic at fire sale prices, 5.5 euro cent/kWh or less, after having been subsidized at an average of about 50 euro cent/kWh. Any leftover/unwanted/unusable energy is grounded, i.e., wasted.

        Example: Germany’s peak solar power is as little as 2% of rated capacity, or 340 MW (2% of end 2010 capacity), on cloudy days and when snow and ice covers the panels. 

        Intermittency: About 65-70 percent of the hours of a year solar energy is near zero. Solar energy is minimal in the morning, maximal at noon about 3-5 hours before the daily peak demand, minimal in the afternoon, minimal during foggy, overcast, snowy days, and zero at night.

  • William Dods

    Mr Shumlin senses a shift in the political wind, so to speak, regarding renewables, or certainly regarding industrial wind where backlash is a more accurate term. In order to appear responsive to this movement he does what politicians do when they want to make it look like they are doing something when in fact they are doing nothing, he creates a commission.
    As for the question of independence, a commission appointed by the governor’s appointee, Ms Miller, cannot make any claim to be independent. Ms Miller, as usual fulfills her role as a hand puppet. Sorry, but seeing the picture above I could not help but wonder if Shumlin’s lips were moving.

  • Stanley Shapiro

    Industrial Wind has risen to a level of provocation that it should be referred to as the ‘abortion issue’ of the renewable energy community.On on hand are developers who will make billions of dollars and misguided environmentalists who actually believe that ridgeline destruction is OK in the name of climate change.That makes as much sense as fornicators for chastity.The idea that we must do everything we can to help the environment is not helped by damaging our most sensitive ecosystems.The fight against indusrial wind will not go away because those that are directly effected by it know that its presence in their communities spell the loss of their health and enjoyment of their ability to live in a Vermont that we all should cherish.

  • walter moses

    for gods sake, go to the polls and vote against shumlin and his minions. a couple of thousand strokes of the pen could elect annette smith and someone to take ole snap smith’s place.