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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Energy Bill Reduced To Study, Moratorium Gone

Toby Talbot
FILE - A wind turbine is seen at the First Wind project in Sheffield.

Legislation that began with a proposed moratorium on wind development has been whittled down to a legislative review of how all electric generation projects are sited.

The vote in the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee to approve the much-reduced bill was unanimous. And both sides in the fight over ridgeline wind development say they’re happy with the outcome.

Despite the bill’s brevity, Committee Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said the extensive discussion led to a meaningful outcome.

“We do want to keep moving forward on a greener, sustainable energy source. We do want to protect our natural resources to the best ability as much as we can,” he said. “But we also acknowledge there is a disruption in communities.”

One version of the bill would have given greater clout to town and regional plans as energy projects are reviewed.

That language was removed by the Senate, and not restored by the House. But Klein said his committee took some of the local concerns to heart, and wants the regulatory process to be more accessible to the public.

“A few of the things that we heard that I see as coming out of this … is at least doing something that at least makes it easier for the average Vermonters to partake in the Public Service Board process,” he said.

The original bill grew out of reaction to large-scale wind projects built or proposed for Vermont’s ridgelines.

The same concerns led Gov. Peter Shumlin to appoint a commission to examine state policy on siting and reviewing energy projects. The panel is expected to finalize its recommendations later this month.

The bill that emerged from the House says the lawmakers will review the siting commission’s report and may consider follow up legislation.

Wind opponents say they’re satisfied with the pared-down version of the bill. Matt Levin is a lobbyist for with Vermonters for a Clean Environment, which has opposed large-scale wind projects.

“It’s not everything that we would have wanted. And it doesn’t address the immediate issues. But we take it ...  as a positive step forward, and an acknowledgement of what people have been talking about, complaining about, the flaws in the process that people have been raising for several years now,” he said. “And it’s good that we have some sort of official recognition that there are issues that need to be addressed.”

Gabrielle Stebbins, executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said the industry is relieved by the version passed by Klein’s committee.

“Clearly, renewable energy supporters are pleased that there is no wind moratorium, because that’s very much in keeping with what the bulk of Vermonters have said repeatedly – that they do want clean energy here in our state,” she said.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill later this week.