August 18th, 2019

Vote For Vermont: Should Wind Tower Projects Be Part of Act 250?

“What could possibly be wrong with alternative energy? But I did my home work, and lo and behold, I found an inadequate review of impacts on ecosystems above 2500 feet, inadequate review of impacts on necessary wildlife habitat, a poor review of aesthetic issues, but more to the point, they were approving projects where the transmission facilities were inadequate, there was absolutely no assurance that the power generated would stay in Vermont..[and there was no consideration of] these health impacts.” – Ed Stanak, speaking to Pat McDonald on Vote802 regarding wind-power developments not being included in Act 250 permitting.

Wind towers offer the potential to harvest an endless, naturally occurring force and turn it into clean, renewable power for Vermonters. But at what cost? Pat McDonald sat down with Ed Stanak, former Act 250 Administrator and former District 5 Coordinator, to discuss wind development’s exemption from Act 250 environmental impact assessments.

Vermont’s Act 250 was created in 1969 and established permitting to review a project’s impact on a variety of community and environmental elements. However, electricity generation and transmission projects were exempted from this permitting process and instead, as Ed explains, directed to fall under Act 248 review. Act 248 is administered by the Public Utility Commission (previously the Public Service Board). While many of the qualifications used for Act 250 permitting have been carried over to 248, there are still large gaps in criteria and enforcement which many citizens claim are resulting in significant impacts on our quality of life and our ecosystems.

There is a growing movement to place alternative energy projects under Act 250 review. Wind-towers have a definite environmental and social impact. Siting often requires drastic environmental disruption to delicate ecosystems, many of which are home to vital headwaters and high-elevation habitat. People living near wind developments report physiological effects that are negatively impacting their day-to-day lives and, in at least one case, forcing them to sell their home. As co-host Pat McDonald explains, “There are many people who want to see [wind development] in Act 250 because they really feel like they are not being heard by the Public Utility Commission, that they are being dismissed.”

Mr. Stanak explains that, in an ideal situation, he would like to see a nearly 50-year old statute used to synchronize an Act 250 review with the Public Utility Commission’s traditional Act 248 review. “This isn’t rocket science. The legislature had this written in to Act 250 in 1969. There is a provision in Act 250 that encourages that if more than one state agency is going to permit something, have coordinated reviews. But it’s hardly ever used.”

“We should be looking for the common good,” Mr. Stanak said. Which brings up the complicated definition of ‘public good.’ The Public Service Board, now the Public Utility Commission, and their Certificates of Public Good, originated during the rapid expansion of utility poles across the state. As poles went up, some farmers and landowners were upset when poles were placed along or on their property. Certificates of Public Good allowed the developers to weigh the impacts on a few against the overall impact of the project, determining that the benefits of the utility poles was great enough to dismiss the concerns of the landowners directly effected by the new infrastructure.

So what is the “common good” for wind towers? Should they fall under Act 250 scrutiny, or do they offer enough broader benefit that their siting should only be subject the less-restrictive Act 248 process?

Note: Ed Stanak, discussed lots of issues and topics, not all of which are included in the above summary. If you would like to see the entire show, please go to vote802.com for this show and a complete listing of all Vote for Vermont shows.

The comments reflected in this article are opinions stated by our guests, and should not be considered the opinion or position of Campaign for Vermont, its Staff, or its Officers. Any rebuttals are welcome and can be expressed on the websites and Facebook pages of VFV and CFV.

Pat McDonald

Ben Kinsley

Co-Producers and Co-Hosts

Vote for Vermont

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