Wind In Vermont: It Has a Place, With Proper Planning

Wind In Vermont: It Has a Place, With Proper Planning

October 21, 2010

VNRC, in collaboration with other environmental and renewable energy advocacy groups, today issued a statement in support of wind energy in Vermont. Our support for wind energy, however, is focused on those projects that are properly designed, carefully sited and of an appropriate scale for the host community and surrounding region. Those considerations – design, siting and scale – will vary from project to project, depending on site conditions and context.

VNRC also believes that decisions regarding the development of renewable energy should be made in a setting that allows for local citizens and communities to express their concerns and to have those concerns addressed in a reasonable and efficient manner.

VNRC Supports Renewables and Wind — Done Right

VNRC has in recent years supported legislation to facilitate the development of renewable energy generation in Vermont. For instance, in just the last two years, VNRC has supported the passage of Vermont’s feed-in-tariff that provides renewable energy projects with a competitive and predictable price for their power. We also supported the passage of the clean energy assessment district, or PACE, legislation that enables cities and towns to set up new financing structures so that local property owners can make often-difficult upfront investments in efficiency retrofits and renewables. VNRC also supported the shift of appeals of energy projects from the Environmental Court to the Public Service Board to set out one clear path for permitting energy projects.

VNRC is proud of the accomplishments of legislative leaders and forward-looking advocates who have promoted renewable energy development in Vermont. Unfortunately, the development of wind and other renewable energy projects has been mired in controversy because debates are occurring on a case-by-case basis in communities, where concerned citizens, developers, and interest groups are grappling with important issues without the benefit of a comprehensive plan to guide renewable energy development in Vermont.

VNRC believes that because of the imminent threats of climate change to our society, wind energy generation will and should be part of Vermont’s energy mix. We believe the question — and the challenge facing Vermont — is not so much whether wind energy will be developed, but rather, the manner in which it occurs. This is a critical moment in the world’s history. It is also a potential pivotal moment in the state’s history. Soon Vermont will elect a new leader for our state. We will urge our new governor to take immediate steps towards the development of a Vermont Renewable Energy and Efficiency Plan that lays out a roadmap for the deployment of energy efficiency, conservation and smart renewable energy in Vermont.

Planning Is Pivotal, for Wind and More

With regard to wind energy specifically, we will also ask the next Governor to lead because wind energy will be part of our state’s energy future — and it must be done right. We think it can be done — more quickly, carefully and thoughtfully — by directing the Agency of Natural Resources and Department of Public Service, in collaboration with Regional Planning Commissions, to develop, as part of a broader Vermont Renewable Energy and Efficiency Plan, a Vermont Wind Energy Development Plan that:

  • Identifies the appropriate amount of wind energy that should be developed in the state, taking into consideration the state’s anticipated energy demand and state renewable energy and greenhouse emissions reduction targets and timetables;
  • Includes an inventory of suitable wind energy development locations, taking into consideration wind potential, access to necessary infrastructure, natural resource impacts, and general development suitability,
  • Identifies a policy that promotes wind at an appropriate scale based on community input, including an analysis of whether wind would be most acceptable and viable at the commercial, community, or individual landowner scale in Vermont;
  • Identifies environmental resources that should be protected from adverse impacts of wind development, taking into consideration regional landscape-scale issues including but not limited to habitat fragmentation and stormwater pollution, applicable statutory standards, and includes strategies for avoiding or mitigating adverse impacts to these resources (e.g., through the designation of exclusion areas, site design, or off-site mitigation);
  • Identifies cultural resources (e.g., landscapes of exceptional scenic, historic, recreational or economic value) that should be protected from adverse impacts of wind development, and possible mitigation strategies for addressing impacts (e.g., design standards, lighting standards), taking into consideration the cumulative impacts of the development of multiple sites within a region;
  • Includes an objective assessment of whether wind energy generation poses risks to public health and if so, identifies appropriate measures to address those risks;
  • Is developed with ample opportunity for public involvement.

Such a plan should serve as a guidance document for the Public Service Board, administration officials, wind developers, municipal officials and Vermont citizens by providing a clear road map for future wind projects. We believe this would move us further, faster, towards the imperative end goal of weaning the state off of dirty, dwindling fossil fuels to a more efficient, clean energy future.

Lowell Wind Proposal

With regard to the Lowell project, VNRC has decided not to intervene in the Certificate of Public Good proceeding before the Public Service Board, and has not taken a position in support or opposition to the project. Like all big development projects, this is a complex issue that must be weighed thoroughly and carefully. There are still many important questions left unanswered. Based on our initial discussions with Green Mountain Power, however, we are encouraged that the utility is taking potential impacts to natural resources seriously and has indicated a willingness to work with the Agency of Natural Resources and other relevant agencies to address issues. We are hopeful that they will continue to work with state officials, including the Agency of Natural Resources, in a constructive and collaborative manner as well as listen to and work to address the concerns of the community.

By working together, guided by a plan, VNRC truly believes that we can move much-needed renewable projects forward — including wind — in a way that will help Vermont meet its energy needs but do so in a way that balances the interests, concerns and opportunities such development presents.

Click here to read the Joint Statement on Wind issued October 21, 2010, by the Vermont Natural Resources Council, Conservation Law Foundation, Vermont Public Interest Research Group and the Vermont League of Conservation Voters Education Fund.