Friday June 14, 2013

MONTPELIER -- The first meeting of a special legislative committee on Vermont’s energy future Thursday featured a continuation of differences between the House and Senate during the 2013 legislative session.

The four-member panel is one of two committees that will look at energy issues between now and January. The other will include the full membership of the House and Senate panels that normally deal with energy and natural resource issues.

Discussion Thursday reflected the strong support among House members of renewable energy, especially wind power, and the more sympathetic posture among senators to critics who say the process for siting wind power turbines needs big improvements.

Legislation introduced on the Senate side originally called for a moratorium on new wind-power development. But the House made clear it wouldn’t go along with that, and both sides eventually settled on setting up the two study committees.

The panel, which is made up of the chairs and vice chairs of the House and Senate committees, grappled with how its work is going to dovetail with the larger group, expected to convene this summer or fall.

Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier and chairman of the House committee, made clear throughout that he thought the entire process was, as he put it after the meeting "not my idea."

He said the summer study committees were a compromise designed to placate wind power opponents who had begun by calling for a moratorium and for sweeping changes in the way the Public Service Board, the state regulatory panel that reviews utility projects, does its work.

"I don’t have any real strong problem with the way that things are done today," Klein said.

Klein and Sen. Diane Snelling, vice chairwoman of the Senate committee, spent much of the meeting arguing about the scope of the work -- for example, whether it should include what some see as the ill health effects of noise from the turbines.

Snelling suggested that a siting process might decide a rule for wind turbines that "you must be a mile from the nearest residence because (of) noise, if that’s determined. That would be a siting requirement and standard, wouldn’t it?"

"It would be if you predetermined or accepted that noise was a health issue," said Klein, who has expressed skepticism on that score.