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State Releases New Renewable Energy Planning Standards

Toby Talbot
The Public Service Department has released the energy planning standards that municipalities will have to meet for more input into the energy siting regulatory process.

The Public Service Department has issued thefinal planning standards required under the state's new energy siting law.These are the guidelines that towns and cities will have to follow to have a greater say when the Public Service Board considers large energy projects.

The legislative fight over just how much say municipalities should have in deciding where energy projects should go was long and contentious.

Some towns said they wanted veto power when wind turbines or solar panels were proposed, but renewable energy advocates argued that the state would never get projects built if towns could reject developments.

In the end, lawmakers passed a renewable energy siting bill that gives towns substantial deference while the Public Service Board considers a project.

Public Service Department Deputy Commissioner Jon Copans says the standards that were released this week give towns a clear roadmap to follow if they want their energy plans considered during the regulatory process.

"The idea here is that towns and regions will plan consistent with our statewide energy goals," Copans says. "We want to give towns and regions a greater voice, but we also need to give Vermonters assurance that we're going to stay on track to meeting our statewide energy goals."

Those goals include getting 90 percent of the state's energy from renewable sources by 2050, and cutting down on the state's carbon emissions.

The state's 11 regional planning commissions will each develop regional plans using the new standards, and then it will be up to the regional commissions to approve the updated municipal plans.

If those municipal plans meet the new standards, then the towns or cities will receive greater input when the Public Service Board considers projects.

"The department is already funding for all 11 RPCs in the state an enhanced energy planning effort," he says. "So actually my pitch to Vermonters is, this planning is already happening on the regional level. So that's a great opportunity for Vermonters who want to engage in this planning process. Go do it at the regional level now."

When lawmakers were debating the energy siting bill, a lot of Vermonters were arguing for much stronger local control over projects.

Don Cioffi lives in Rutland, and he started a petition that was ultimately signed by about 150 towns that wanted more say over energy development.

He says the rules do nothing to give towns and cities real input into the permitting process.

Cioffi says Public Service Board will still to make determinations on energy projects even when there is strong local opposition.

"This is just another subterfuge to get around what 151 towns demanded in the Legislature," Cioffi says. "They didn't demand that regional commissions be controlling this. They demanded that local people at the local level make local decisions about how they want their communities to look. Period."

Copans said the new rules establish a reliable and consistent process for state regulators, as well as developers and municipalities.

The new rules were written after a series of hearings were held this summer.

The state's 11 regional planning commissions will work with municipalities, providing maps and training while the local plans are developed.

The Public Service Department will publish specific guidance materials for the towns and cities in the coming months.

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state. 
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