Renewable Energy Siting: What about that Veto?


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Renewable Energy Siting: What about that Veto?

Posted by Karen Horn on 10 June 2016

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It wasn’t pretty yesterday, June 9, as the legislature convened for what turned out to be a very long day of trying to address the Governor’s veto of S.230, the renewable energy facility siting bill. 

S.230 passed on the last day of the regular session. It was one of the last bills to be approved and, as is always the case with legislation that is in play in the last hours of the session, the pressure to get something out that could pass muster in both chambers was high. Most substantive conversations took place in the hallways and not in committee rooms where conversations are public, and compromises were forged that were hard for lots of people, including local officials, to swallow. With the Governor’s endorsement, legislators were urged to vote yes on the bill. They did.

The governor’s veto did not challenge the municipal and regional planning provisions that were adopted in S.230. Those provisions establish far more cumbersome processes to develop and secure approval of the energy components of municipal plans than local officials ever asked for. But they do recognize that municipal plans and recommendations are valid and should be addressed. Once a town has jumped through all the hoops, it will be accorded substantial deference in the Public Service Board (PSB) Certificate of Public Good (CPG) permitting process.

It will take until November for the Department of Public Service (DPS) to build those hoops, establish standards, and thereafter conduct the training that S.230 requires them to provide in each regional commission area. It will take longer for regional commissions and municipalities to:

  1. write energy elements into their plans that satisfy the new statutory and DPS requirements, namely “analyses of resources needs, scarcities, costs, and problems within the region across all energy sectors including electric, thermal and transportation, efficiency, siting of renewable energy resources and areas unsuitable for siting those resources or particular categories or sizes of resources;”
  2. secure a “determination of energy compliance” for first a regional and then a municipal plan; and
  3. notify the PSB of a municipality’s intent to participate in a CPG process and be accorded “substantial deference.”

In the meantime, renewable energy generation projects are being permitted and sited all over the state. Those applications are not slowing down and there are some very big proposals in the works. The prospect of losing an entire year of getting even this difficult planning process up and running due to a gubernatorial veto was immensely discouraging.

Yesterday it took an agonizingly long and frustrating time for the legislature to get organized and find a way to enact the planning provisions and the rest of S.230 to the governor’s satisfaction. But they finally did last night. The Governor plans to sign S.260 on Monday, June 13, in Middlebury.

Now the DPS and regional and municipal officials need to work together to implement the siting bill. It will be a heavy lift for many municipalities. Only after guidelines and standards are established, municipalities have secured determinations of compliance, and the PSB rules on renewable energy facility applications will we know if the efforts required by S.230 – and now S.260 – result in real change.