Tuesday January 22, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- A commission taking a close look at how Vermont's energy-generation projects are approved will make a stop in Brattleboro this week.

The Governor's Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission has scheduled a public hearing from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Brattleboro Union High School, 131 Fairground Road.

"This is just an opportunity to hear any ideas that the public might have," said Chris Recchia, commissioner of Vermont's Public Service Department.

The hearing is the latest step in a process leading to the commission's final report to Gov. Peter Shumlin and the state Legislature. That document is due by April 30.

Shumlin created the commission Oct. 2. Officials have said a growing number of electric-generation projects -- along with the state's push for more renewable energy -- created a need to examine Vermont's permitting process.

The commission is supposed to "survey best practices for siting approval of electric-generation projects."

Also under consideration is whether Vermont allows adequate opportunity for public input in that permitting process.

The latter topic includes debate about the role of local land-use regulations. That's been a hot topic locally, as the Town of Windham has been attempting to use its town plan to stop a potential turbine project there.

The siting commission is asking "what role should local plans, local zoning and regional plans play in the selection of these sites?" Recchia said.


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The commission up until this point has been meeting in Montpelier. The Brattleboro hearing will be followed by hearings Jan. 30 in Burlington and Feb. 12 in Lowell.

Commissioners also have scheduled a series of site visits. Before traveling to Brattleboro for the Jan. 23 hearing, they'll spend part of the afternoon at Granite Ridge Energy Natural Gas Facility in Londonderry, N.H.

Other scheduled site visits include South Burlington Solar Farm, McNeil Generating Station in Burlington, Sheffield Wind in Sheffield and Kingdom Community Wind in Lowell.

There is limited public participation during those site visits. Those who want to participate have to enter a lottery; more information is available at the commission's website, http://sitingcommission.vermont.gov.

Anyone is welcome at the public hearings, however. No advance sign-up is required at the Brattleboro hearing, Recchia said.

"Just show up," he said. "You're welcome to talk about any aspect of the commission's charges."

Commissioners have begun their deliberations, but there still is plenty of opportunity for public input, Recchia said.

"We've been hearing from a variety of stakeholders," he said. "As of last week, we started really debating the key issues. And that's going to go on until the end of March."

There are five members of the commission, and it includes Windham County representation:

-- Gaye Symington, executive director of the High Meadows Fund and former speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives.

-- Jan Eastman, past president of the Snelling Center for Government and former secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

-- Tom Bodett of Dummerston, a Selectboard member and municipal representative to the VT Enhanced 911 Board.

-- Louise McCarren, former chairwoman of the Vermont Public Service Board.

-- Scott Johnstone, executive director of the Vermont Energy Investment Corporation and former secretary of the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.