A group of about 20 protesters gathered outside the Sheraton in Burlington, Vt., early on Oct. 8 as attendees arrived at the hotel and conference center for Renewable Energy Vermont’s annual clean energy conference.
The protesters were peaceably displaying signs that read, for instance, “Stop Destroying Vermont,” “Our Government Doesn’t Care,” and “Clean Energy is Dirty Business.”
One unassuming-looking woman held a handmade sign that said, “Vermont needs to reinstate local (double underlined) control of renewable energy projects.”
Her sign did not make much sense to me. When did Vermont take control away from local governments in the renewable energy development process? The Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) reviews clean energy development projects in the state, and any party interested in participating in those reviews is allowed to intervene in those cases. Local governments are not excluded from that right.
With her protest in mind, I joined the conference attendees in the conference center as they gathered to listen to the keynote address by Darren Springer, chief of staff for Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Springer extolled the reasons why Vermont’s clean energy industry can be proud – 16,000 jobs in the clean energy sector, 100 MW of wind energy, and ten times the amount of solar than was installed in the state when Gov. Shumlin first took office.
Among the state’s accomplishments, Springer said, is the passage this year of a renewable energy standard (RES) for Vermont under Act 56.
He said that the RES not only sets aggressive and innovative mandates for clean energy, but also seeks to address some of the tension felt in the state by ensuring that towns have “auto inclusion” in renewable energy project review cases before the PSB.
“I would argue that towns always had a seat at the table,” he said, but Act 56 guarantees it now.
Springer’s words made the protest of the unassuming-looking woman in front of the Sheraton that much more intriguing. Even after Vermont makes the move to codify town rights in the project review process, Vermonters, it seems, still feel left out.
Following Springer’s keynote address, a panel of Vermont clean energy representatives discussed Act 56 at greater length to help industry members understand the ramifications of the new standard for future market growth.
At the end of the panel discussion, an audience member asked the panel what they would recommend industry members do in response to the current barrage of media coverage with anti-wind and anti-solar sentiment.
“Should we engage in a letter writing campaign?” she asked.
In response, Vermont Rep. Tony Klein said that when public commentaries are factually incorrect, a response is necessary.
“If I were the industry, if I were the advocacy groups, I would get a rapid response team, and I wouldn’t let one thing go by without it being corrected, because the truth matters,” he said.
So, here’s the truth on clean energy project reviews in Vermont.
Much like other states’ laws, section 248(a) of Title 30, which is Vermont’s statute on public service, requires companies to obtain approval from the PSB before beginning site preparation or construction of electric transmission facilities, electric generation facilities – clean or otherwise – and certain gas pipelines within Vermont.
Among other things, section 248(a)(4) requires the PSB to hold nontechnical and technical hearings on all petitions to construct an electric generation facility in Vermont. Under Act 56, Subsection (F) was added to section 248(a)(4) to permit the legislative body and planning commission for the municipality in which a proposed facility is located to appear as a party in any proceeding held under 248(a).
The recent codification of municipalities’ party-status aside, there are two ways to participate in the section 248 process: as a formal party to a case and as a member of the public. Formal parties can provide testimony and participate in evidentiary hearings. All formal parties must follow the PSB’s procedural rules, and they are subject to the rules governing discovery and cross-examination.
Members of the public can speak at public hearings and send the PSB written comments, but they cannot participate in evidentiary hearings.
Whether the powers granted by statute to the PSB constitute a taking of local control could be put to public debate. It should be noted, however, that members of the PSB, which include the commissioner of public service and any additional board members appointed by the commissioner, are appointed by the governor, with the consent of the Vermont Senate. The governor and the state senators are elected by – wait for it – residents of Vermont.
For more information about the Section 248 process in Vermont, visit: http://psb.vermont.gov/statutesrulesandguidelines/guidelines#248