Monday, November 15, 2004

Vermont Governor's Commission on Wind Turbines Publishes Draft Recommendations

Vermont Governor James Douglas' Commission on Wind Energy Regulatory Policy has released its draft recommendations on potential changes to the regulatory review process for siting wind turbines in Vermont. The Commission was charged with evaluating and, if necessary, suggesting changes to the current regulatory review process for wind power projects, and has been conducting public hearings on the issue over the past several months.

After much ado, the Commission's draft recommendations essentially conclude that, subject to some minor changes, the current review process under Act 248 is adequate and that the Public Service Board (PSB) is the appropriate forum in which to conduct wind project reviews. Importantly, the Commission expressly rejected the claims of many wind power opponents who have called for wind farms to be reviewed under both Act 248 and Act 250. In particular the Commission concluded that "applying both Section 248 and Act 250 to proposed wind projects would result in a duplicative and inefficient process," and that "Section 248 already incorporates key Act 250 criteria."(for more on the details of these two regulatory schemes please see our previous post on the issue).

The Commission's findings likewise firmly support the PSB's role in reviewing wind power projects, and citing the Board's legal and technical expertise, concluded that the PSB provides the best forum for review: "[the] PSB has demonstrated due consideration of local and regional input. PSB applies a rigorous and comprehensive process. PSB has demonstrated that pro se parties (parties not represented by an attorney) can participate effectively, even in very technical and complicated cases."

Although generally supportive of the current review process, the Commission offered some recommendations for minor changes in the process. Among others, the Commission has suggested that the PSB:
  • increase notice of wind projects, including enlarging the notice period for release of construction plans from 45 to 60 days;
  • require mailing to all municipal and regional planning commissions and the town clerk in each community within 10 miles of the proposed project;
  • require on-going mailings to all stakeholders that sign-up to be on a mailing list (maintained by the applicant);
  • require consideration of land use and energy elements of regional plans (in addition to current consideration of municipal plans); and
  • ensure consideration of "unique impacts and needs associated with wind projects" including safety (e.g. ice throw), FAA lighting requirements, flicker (caused by setting or rising sun behind rotating turbine blades), noise and low frequency noise, wildlife issues, and decommissioning funds (with a recommendation that developers establish sufficient decommissioning funds to restore sites to "natural conditions").
The Commission's final recommendations are not due on the Governor's desk until December 15, 2004. The final public hearing on the issue will be Tuesday, November 16, 2004 at 1:30 in the Pavilion Office Building Auditorium (109 State Street, Montpelier).

UPDATE (11/16/04): The Associated Press has an article this morning on the Commission's Draft Recommendations.

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