VNRC’s Comment on Recent East Haven Wind Farm Decision
March 30, 2006
A hearing officer at the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) recently proposed an unexpected decision for the East Haven wind project, recommending that the full PSB deny approval of the project.
But for the fact that East Haven has not demonstrated that it will not have an undue, adverse impact on birds and bats, VNRC has been generally supportive of the four turbine project, which is planned on an abandoned radar base site in the Northeast Kingdom. The project could provide up to 5 MW of electricity for the area — enough to power about 5,000 homes — and would begin to satisfy Vermont’s growing energy needs with renewable sources.
In this case, however, the hearing officer suggested that the project did not satisfy the “public good” threshold because of its impacts to the public investment made in the surrounding area for conservation purposes. He also found that there was insufficient information on the impacts that the turbines might have on some wildlife.
VNRC supports diversifying the state’s energy portfolio and believes industrial-sized wind invariably will play a crucial role in achieving a clean, independent energy future for Vermont. That said, VNRC does not support the premise that any development, regardless of presumed benefit, should be allowed to circumvent the due process outlined in Section 248.
VNRC supports and respects the thoughtful PSB process. VNRC believes that it is inappropriate to treat that process as a referendum by lobbying the judges rather than making the case through the quasi-judicial proceeding that it is. VNRC believes that the burden of proof to demonstrate compliance with the Section 248 criteria rests firmly on the shoulders of the applicant, who in this instance does not appear to have met that burden. Any challenge to a proposed decision should be made through proper judicial channels of appeal.
Importantly, many of the concerns raised by the hearing officer related to conservation, wildlife protection, and public investment, have been the result of decades of effort by Vermont’s environmental, conservation, and advocacy community. VNRC has worked long and hard — shoulder to shoulder with many public interest organizations — to safeguard the invaluable natural resources of this state. That is what makes this important issue so difficult. VNRC supports the development of appropriately sited large-scale wind projects in Vermont and recognizes that, even with careful siting, there will inevitably be compromises that have to be made for the public good. Yet we also want to ensure that we do not trade one important environmental value for another.
If VNRC and others expect Vermonters to support important renewable energy projects, especially large-scale wind development, then we need to do so responsibly by supporting the process of environmental review and providing factual information to the public.