Developers recently expressed interest in erecting two meteorological testing towers in Windham (and another in Grafton). Typically, these types of projects are a precursor to a larger scale wind development, but for now the plan is simply for the towers.
The catch? Windham officials aren't too keen on playing host to a commercial wind site. So much so that a ban on such projects is specifically written into its town plan.
Atlantic Wind has applied to the state for a certificate of public good, and the Public Service Board has yet to decide on the fate of the towers. But over the past several weeks the waiting game has turned into a power play for each side.
While these towers, depending on the data they produce, could set the stage for Windham County's first commercial wind facility, as Atlantic Wind asserted in a letter to the Public Service Board, it "has not proposed a wind project and does not know at this time if the site is a viable location for a wind project."
Town officials have rejected these arguments as "disingenuous," saying test towers are groundwork for full-scale turbines, which are banned.
And Atlantic Wind thinks they're overstepping their jurisdiction.
Throwing its hat into the discussion, last week the Vermont Department of Public Service urged the Public Service Board to reject the proposal because it is "wholly contrary" to Windham's town regulations. In response, Atlantic Wind has called the
"The department's suggestion creates a slippery slope and ... turns over certain (but not clearly defined) portions of statewide energy planning to towns," attorneys for the wind company wrote in a letter to the Public Service Board.
We are truly of two minds in this matter. In truth, it seems more than reasonable that towns be able to have a say about what happens within their boundaries. However, as Atlantic Wind has stated, town plans are meant to be "advisory, not controlling."
"DPS cites no statutory language, case law or prior board decisions to support this new position, and there is none," Atlantic Wind states in a letter to the Public Service Board. "The assertion is unprecedented: It directly conflicts with both the plain language of Section 248 and controlling Vermont Supreme Court law, and thus must be rejected."
In truth, while the Reformer editorial board and Windham town officials can see that these test towers are simply a sign of future plans, there's no reason, legal or otherwise, to prevent their construction. When and if the time comes, we would hope that town residents and officials will be given the opportunity to be involved with any decision on further development. As a good neighbor, that would be expected of Atlantic Wind - to listen with respect. Furthermore, the state should work to foster these processes. Policies should be clear. Towns should be guided so that they are clear on what power they are able to exercise when crafting things like town plans.
In the end, it comes down to clarity, communication and trust.