"I feel very good about where we ended up in terms of empowering local and regional planning to determine their own futures in the new energy landscape."
That’s how Dummerston’s Tom Bodett summed up a set of recommendations put forth in a final report by the Vermont Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission.
With state officials pushing to have the Green Mountain State seeing 90 percent of its energy generated by renewable sources by 2050, there’s been a marked up-tick in project proposals all around the state. And, in many of those cases, the people most affected by those projects -- typically those living in the towns where they would be located -- have grown more and more concerned that the way the state deals with reviewing and ultimately approving projects is antiquated and doesn’t take their input into account.
Two Windham County towns find themselves currently in the midst of just such a debate -- meteorological test towers, usually a precursor for wind farm development -- were approved by the Public Service Board for a site in Windham, even though town officials were against the project (the Town Plan prohibits wind farm development). Neighbors in Grafton, who would also be affected by any future large-scale development, also began debating the issue.
The commission came up with five main recommendations to address these types of concerns:
-- An increased emphasis on planning at the state, regional and municipal levels so that state energy-siting decisions are consistent with regional plans.
-- Adoption of a "tiered" approach to reviewing energy projects by more quickly and efficiently addressing smaller or less-controversial proposals "while focusing the bulk of PSB time and effort on the evaluation of larger or more complex projects."
-- Increased opportunities for public participation.
-- Implementation of procedural changes to increase transparency, efficiency and predictability in the siting process.
-- Updates to environmental, health and other protection guidelines.
We think each one of those recommendations would go a long way toward fostering an increased sense of control at the local level, when it comes to these types of projects. After all, as we stated in an editorial on the Windham controversy last year, many problems and concerns would be alleviated if developments better involved residents and town officials in the planning stages.
"Overall, I can say with some confidence that we have addressed the issues we consistently heard from the public and the industry developers alike -- that our current process is too complicated, too expensive, too slow, not transparent enough and not sensitive enough to cultural and environmental considerations," Bodett told the Reformer following the release of the report.
"I like the report’s emphasis on planning at the regional level to ensure that projects are sited in the best places," Brattleboro town energy coordinator and Brattleboro Climate Protection executive director, Paul Cameron, told the Reformer, adding that he supports the siting commission’s "encouragement of community-led projects and increasing opportunities for public participation."
For the moment, these may just be recommendations. But we urge state officials and the governor’s office to begin reviewing the report. For the 2050 goal to become a reality, new projects will need to be envisioned and created, and the process will go much smoother with the support of Vermonters. Support through communication sounds a lot better than reports of project after project getting bogged down in contention and opposition.