Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Act 250 and Wind Turbines in Vermont
There's a major fight going on right now in the Vermont State House about wind. Senate Bill 30 would require Act 250 review of energy projects. As John Dillon of VPR wrote:
The legislation would give local communities an effective veto in deciding whether a renewable project is built in their town. The bill does that by saying projects must follow the land use criteria in Act 250, Vermont's main development control law. Act 250 says developments shall conform with town and regional plans
Steve Wright of Craftsbury is a former state fish and wildlife commissioner .... said he's incredulous that mainstream environmental groups...do not want to see the landmark land use law extended to energy projects.
"When the environmental community in Vermont won't support a bill that has as its core a more effective use of Act 250, that's a problem," Wright said.
Meanwhile, some groups, such as VPIRG, are doing a full court press against the legislation. There's a film and gathering at the State House tomorrow. Due to my former position on the Hartford (town) Energy Commission, I have already received several emails with links, urging me to email my senator in opposition to this bill. According to the anti-Senate-Bill-30 campaign, environmental groups oppose the bill as written because it overreaches and targets clean energy and not dirty energy projects.
Act 250, Governor Shumlin and Animal Farm
Act 250 is a land use act that was passed in the early 70s. When the interstate highways made Vermont more accessible to tourists, there was a gold rush to develop ski resorts and so forth. Our mountains would have been completely chopped up by competing tourist businesses, and not all of the businesses would have been viable. Act 250's requirements for careful environmental review preserved our beautiful mountains. Some would say its requirements are draconian, not merely careful. However, these requirements have been in effect for about forty years, and they seem to be working to protect our ridges. They protect the ridges from everything...except wind developments.
Some "clean energy projects," such as wind turbines, have been given an exemption from Act 250. They don't have to satisfy an Act 250 review. Among other things, this exemption takes land use powers from the local towns and given it to state siting commissions. This sort of transfer of power from the towns to the state is unpopular with almost everyone in Vermont, which is why Senate Bill 30 has bi-partisan support. The bill gives land-use decisions back to the towns.
At one point in the past, however, Governor Shumlin stated that he wanted Act 250 review of an energy project. In December 2010, I attended a conference on energy conservation and renewable energy. Governor-elect Shumlin spoke at the conference. At that time, he was asked about a biomass plant that was proposed for southern Vermont. Shumlin was basically against it. He said biomass is the "least attractive" renewable technology, and that he hoped the biomass plants underwent Act 250 review.
And so we end with Animal Farm in which "All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others." In Vermont, Act 250 review of energy projects is important, except in the case where the energy projects are more-equal than other energy projects. In other words, except in the case where the administration supports the energy projects, and doesn't want anything standing in their way.