Vermont Senate carves out wind bill and leaves it on the table

Vermont Senate carves out wind bill and leaves it on the table

After four hours of back and forth, the Vermont Senate gutted a controversial bill on Tuesday that would have given municipalities more leverage over the permitting process for large wind and other energy generation projects.

The senators then voted 24-6 to pass on the remains of S.30 for a third reading on the floor this week or next.

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell

Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell. File photo by Alan Panebaker

“It’s not even a quarter of the bill,” said Senate President Pro Tempore John Campbell, D-Windsor, about the amended version, which he voted against. “Even though it’s essential for us to move off of our addiction to oil and onto renewables, I don’t think it’s to the point where we should just be led around by developers of (renewable energy) projects. It concerns me.”

Removed from the bill is language that would have required electric generation projects with a capacity greater than 2.2 megawatts to comply with Act 250 land-use criteria for a 15-month period ending on July 1, 2014. The chief aim of the proposed language was to give towns and municipalities more power in the application process for proposed energy generation projects. One of the key Act 250 criteria that large developments must conform to is a town plan.

Act 250 is the state’s governing land-use law, and it applies to commercial developments but not to energy projects.

The quasi-judicial Public Service Board regulates electric generators under Section 248 — a process that has been widely criticized this past year for excluding public participation. While Section 248 requires “due consideration” of town plans, it does not necessitate conformance, as S.30 would have done before the major sections were struck from the bill.

What is left is a series of economic, environmental and health assessments associated with wind turbine projects that the Public Service Department would have to carry out. The bill would appropriate $75,000 for the department’s assessments, and it refines the structure of the Legislature’s Joint Energy Committee.

This next year, the bill would charge the committee with reviewing the department’s assessments as well as the findings of the energy siting commission, which was created by Gov. Peter Shumlin in response to issues raised with the current siting process.

The bill also prohibits commercial construction, including electric power plants, “within any state park or forest.”

Paul Burns, director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, said he is glad that the amendment passed and that the current bill doesn’t contain “the most offensive portions with respect to renewable energy.”

He mostly supports what’s left of the bill but said he would like to see the state’s assessments focus on the positive elements of wind generation, not just potential problems. Although Burns says he is a strong proponent of Act 250, he asserted that large-scale energy projects should be permitted under a separate set of procedures because they affect “the overall public good” of the state.

“There is a separate review process for energy facilities, and I think that makes sense,” he said. “The idea that we as a state can decide, for instance, that we want to pursue renewable energy for this state is not a goal that should be trumped by a particular town that says no for any reason at all to even the consideration of a renewable energy issue within its borders.”

The tiny Northeast Kingdom town of Newark voted 169-59 in 2012 to amend its town plan to articulate that large-scale wind developments are not appropriate within the municipality.

The sections of S.30 that were voted down could have prevented such developments in Newark until at least 2014.

How the vote sugared off

When Sens. Robert Hartwell, D-Bennington, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, introduced S.30 at the outset of the legislative session, the bill included a three-year moratorium on the development of wind turbine projects with a capacity greater than 500 kilowatts.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

Sen. Joe Benning, R-Caledonia.

The version of the bill that passed out of the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee, which Hartwell chairs, did not include the moratorium. It did, however, include Act 250 criteria.

The Senate then voted at the beginning of Tuesday’s floor debate to consider an amended version of the bill, introduced by Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden. That version, which was debated, included more streamlined language and used a higher threshold of 2.2 megawatts to trigger the bill’s Act 250 measures — rather than the 500 kilowatt marker originally proposed.

Debate over the bill kicked off to a heated start around 9 a.m. and left senators looking pale and exhausted by the time they finished at 1 p.m.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, pleaded with his fellow senators to pass the bill on behalf of the Northeast Kingdom towns that are opposed to the development of wind turbines on their ridgelines.

“They don’t have the money to hire expensive lawyers,” he said. “They don’t have lobbyists in this building every day. [S.30] gives that community a voice in front of the Public Service Board to say, ‘Stop. We need further study. And we cannot compete with the deep pockets of this developer.’ Please support my small community … we have contributed our fair share towards our renewable energy goals.”

Benning spoke passionately about the environmental devastation he sees on Lowell Mountain, defending the term “rape,” which he used in a January op-ed associated with Green Mountain Power’s Kingdom Community Wind project.

“I don’t know any word in the English language to better describe what I see there,” he said, passing out pictures of the project’s construction on the Lowell Mountain ridgeline.

“Are we going to let policy goals for the state trump what individuals are raising concern about?” Benning asked his fellow senators. “We’ve heard about NIMBY-ism, this is not in my back yard. I have to ask within the normal confines of this state … what is in our backyard? If the citizens of (these Northeast Kingdom towns) are all telling us we have a problem that needs to be dealt with, is that not all of our backyard?”

While many legislators — like Democratic Sens. Claire Ayer, Dick Sears and Ginny Lyons — were unwavering in their opposition to the bill, others were torn.

Sen. Dick McCormack

Sen. Dick McCormack. File photo by Alan Panebaker

Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, vocalized his internal conflict on the matter.

“I find that the more I live, the more opportunities I have to betray myself,” he said. “The vote today is a vote against clean renewable energy — and I’m sorry but the bill inconveniences or slows down clean renewable energy — or to vote against the Act 250 jurisdiction over the troublesome development of pristine areas.

“The question for me finally is what trumps what … are we serious about global warming or are we not? So, I’m going to vote against the bill and I’m going to break my own heart in doing it.”

Richard Westman, R-Lamoille, told senators that he would vote for the bill to keep the debate on the matter moving forward, but he was hesitant to do so. Westman’s votes would likely have resulted in a tie that Lt. Gov. Phil Scott previously said he would break in favor of the bill.

In a last ditch effort to remove the Act 250 sections of the bill, Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden, proposed a compromise. His amendment would strike the Act 250 language from the bill, and it would carry forward the studies and the Joint Energy Committee’s work on recommending a new siting process.

The first time the senators voted on the amendment, it resulted in a tie, with Lt. Gov. Scott voting it down. But then Sen. Dick Sears, D-Bennington, asked for a revote — his fellow senators said he was confused about the exact provision on the table.

Sears then voted for the amendment, and the bill was amended by a vote of 16-14. The Senate then overwhelmingly sent the bill forward to a third vote.

Afterwards, Zuckerman said that he felt giving towns “temporary veto authority” would give “towns a false hope,” as that power could go away a year later.

“In January, eight months from now, we can review whether we should change our laws in a much more comprehensive permanent way, or not, but with complete information,” he said. “So, to have a temporary yo-yo plays with their emotions much more than what we passed today.”

Benning said he was pleased with the end result because it will send a stronger message to the House that the state needs to look into this matter further.

“It’s a heck of a lot stronger statement than a 15-15 tie-breaking bill,” he said. “While it did not have everything I was hoping for, it keeps the discussion alive and that’s the most important thing that this whole past few months were all about.”

This story was updated at 7 a.m. on March 27. 

Andrew Stein

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20 Comments on "Vermont Senate carves out wind bill and leaves it on the table"


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3 years 9 months ago

The Senate guts S.30 and proves to the rest of the world that Vermont has the best Senate that money can buy.

Coleman Dunnar
3 years 9 months ago
Sen. Dick McCormack “… [A]re we serious about global warming or are we not? Yes we are very serious about global warming and we should be. But the follow up question in your soul searching should have been is how does the de minimums short term reduction (if any in reality) of CO2 emission that wind turbines might offer balance against the destruction an environmental irreplaceable treasure . . It doesn’t – the juice isn’t worth the squeeze (pun intended). The mountain tops have been struggling to recovery from the pillaging in the name of economic gain three centuries ago… Read more »
3 years 9 months ago
Emphasis mine: Sen. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, vocalized his INTERNAL CONFLICT on the matter. “I find that THE MORE I LIVE, the more opportunities I have to betray MYSELF,” he said. “The vote today is a vote against clean renewable energy — and I’M sorry but the bill inconveniences or slows down clean renewable energy — or to vote against the Act 250 jurisdiction over the troublesome development of pristine areas. “The question for ME finally is what trumps what … are we serious about global warming or are we not? So, I’M going to vote against the bill and I’M… Read more »
3 years 9 months ago

Ellen, I love it. You ARE priceless, and right on. Such dishrags.

Kevin Jones
3 years 9 months ago
I share Ellen’s displeasure and it is very difficult since I consider Senators McCormack and Zuckerman friends whose records on the environment I generally respect. Unfortunately many Democrats and Progressives have missed the boat on comprehending the fundamental flaws in the SPEED and Standard Offer programs. As I have explained these programs are the most fundamentally flawed renewable programs in the country because they result in raising customers rates but not procuring a net increase in regional renewables since the utilities are allowed to sell the Renewable Energy Credits out of state to meet others requirements. Most significantly since all… Read more »
peter harvey
3 years 9 months ago

Vermont imports 2/3 of its electricity, all of its fossil fuels, exports its garbage and talks non-stop about its tourism image and economy. Vermont is a self-congratulating “Green State” only because it is a NIMBY state that extracts from trashes other places so that it doesn’t have to have to look at and live them here at home while continually increasing its consumption and waste. Will we really do anything meaningful about the way we live?

3 years 9 months ago
Peter, It is worse, much worse. The American Indians lived lightly on the land and left us (after being exterminated, or sickened, or chased away, or herded into camps) a pristine environment which we trashed to worship the God of Modernity. Vermont, one of the RELATIVELY least trashed areas in New England, did its trashing by building huge ski resorts, 4-6 lane federal highways and “living large” by sprawling all over the countryside. Now a new wave of trashing is happening on ridge lines and on meadows by Vermont’s politically-well-connected RE businesses, which, with help from various political subsidies, build… Read more »
3 years 9 months ago
Dick Mc Cormack, “The question for me finally is what trumps what … are we serious about global warming or are we not? So, I’m going to vote against the bill and I’m going to break my own heart in doing it.” Dick, “do not break your heart”, but open your mind, because you could – more quickly reduce Vermont’s CO2 emissions – by much greater quantities – for a lesser cost than ridge line renewable energy could, by being for energy efficiency. In Vermont, doing RE first and EE later is like pouring water into a leaking bucket; it… Read more »
Stan Shapiro
3 years 9 months ago
The sophistic arguments won. That IWT’s on Vermont ridge lines has ANYTHING to do with climate change or will have any impact on global warming is clearly untruthful. What is truly offensive is the contempt that lawmakers have shown toward individual communities and that is only matched by the arrogance of Burns to tell the rest of us what is in the public good.Oh, and Mr.Harvey, last I heard Hydro Quebec is not a fossil fuel generation facility. Congratulations to the developers, their lobbyists,and the public servants who participate in the revolving door of Montpelier politics.Special thanks to the Progressive… Read more »
Peggy Sapphire
3 years 9 months ago
March 27, 2013 Re: March 26, 2013 Senate actions re S.30 To: David Zuckerman, Anthony Pollina, Tim Ashe, Ginny Lyons Some might say ‘calm down’ before committing one’s thoughts to paper. I can not calm down and do not wish to exert caution or propriety on the knees of ‘protocol’. What you committed on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday morning is nothing short of abuse of power. Your actions call for the fiercest response. It is one thing to see a favored bill go down to defeat as a result of reasoned choice and the equitable process called… Read more »
3 years 9 months ago
Peggy, Welcome to the club. Your eyes and those of many others have opened. Dreams evaporate when reality intrudes. About these Lowell CO2 emissions reduction to “save the world”, they will be much less than claimed by GMP. Here are some numbers. The building of 459-ft tall industrial wind turbines on ridge lines has nothing to do with quickly grabbing federal and state subsidies while the getting is good to build RE businesses. It is all about CO2 emission reduction to save the world from climate change and global warming. Let us see how much are these reductions. Keep these… Read more »
Elinor Osborn
3 years 9 months ago
To Senator McCormack: You say, “I’m going to vote against the bill and I’m going to break my own heart in doing it.” Your vote against S 30 breaks my heart too. Many of us citizens initially thought, as you do, that industrial wind was necessary to reduce our fossil fuel use. But in our two years of research on industrial wind, we have learned that only 4% of Vermont’s fossil fuel use comes from electricity. The rest comes from transportation and heating. So why destroy our homeland for saving only a minute amount of fossil fuel, if that (Some… Read more »
Eric Rosenbloom
3 years 9 months ago

Dick McCormack asked, “The question for me finally is what trumps what … are we serious about global warming or are we not?” And then he showed that he is not. That it is the business of global warming that trumps all. That the real impacts of symbolic (though profitable) gestures like industrial wind remain abstract to those ramming them into distant ridgelines and other citizens’ communities.

Nancy Fried
3 years 9 months ago
I really feel that what some Senators did yesterday in gutting S30, was turn their back on their fellow Vermonters in the name of policy, special interests, and self-interest. A lot of lies and distortions were thrown around the Senate floor yesterday about this bill. This bill would have given Vermonters a much needed voice in the process. It is incredible to me that they are not able to see the human side of what fellow Vermonters are going through. Senator Ginny Lyons making “Whooshing Sounds” was mocking people who are truly suffering from the impacts of noise. If she… Read more »
3 years 9 months ago
“Senator Ginny Lyons making “Whooshing Sounds” was mocking people who are truly suffering from the impacts of noise. If she does not believe in the impacts of Wind Turbine Syndrome, she should look at the testimony of Dr. H. Reider, given to the Committee on Natural Resouces in their recent hearings. He is treating several patients with this syndrome, some who have had to move because of their sickness. Her actions were insensitive, thoughtless. and frankly cruel.” Please tell me I didn’t really read what I just read. Please tell me that a 69-year-old woman didn’t actually mock a family… Read more »
Eric Rosenbloom
3 years 9 months ago
VPIRG’s Paul Burns was quoted as hoping that any study of Big Wind’s impacts (as still mandated by what’s left of S.30) focuses only on the good and ignores the negative. That certainly sums up the debate in Montpelier and the solipsistic business of “green energy” that only proposes taking over more of our natural world for extractive profits and the livelihood of parasitic consultancy networks. That such people still dare to call themselves environmentalists and hurl fantastic charges that those who raise issues concerning the juggernaut of industrial wind are in fact the corporate stooges is what has been… Read more »
David Dempsey
3 years 9 months ago
Dick Mccormack is a great singer and a fine person. But his comments in this story highlight his flatlander heritage. Vermont is called the Green Mountain State,and for Vermonters who love the state for its environment and way of life, native or flatlander, it is our identity. Everybody is in favor of renewable energy, and if it would make a difference I’d be in favor of using the toll road on Mt Mansfield to haul up enough wind turbines that you could see them from Mt Washington. But to do this to build renewable energy wind projects that have a… Read more »
Jon Walker
3 years 9 months ago

Let’s save the environment by destroying it! Good on you VT Senate.

Rob Macgregor
3 years 9 months ago

To all the Senators who voted for the amendment, thank you for doing so. You did the right thing, and a solid majority of Vermonters will appreciate the fact.

Andrew Whittaker
3 years 9 months ago
I do not support this Vietnamization of energy policy: to save the environment, we must destroy it. Renewables should be integrated with the built environment. Industrial wind needs rational assessment, and I am not persuaded that the Senate rationally assessed the efficacy of wind. This makes their passivity in the face of past and proposed mountain destruction all the worse. We should not burn books we have not read, nor destroy mountains we have not climbed. Wind proponents have not demonstrated that “trading a few miles of VT ridgeline” makes headway against global warming. So we are supposed to experiment… Read more »
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