Thursday March 21, 2013
Last October, Gov. Peter Shumlin called for a five-person commission to assess the way electrical generations are sited, approved and reviewed after criticism from energy organizations and communities that feel the current process is neither transparent nor welcoming. The commission aims to provide improvements and receive recommendations from municipalities. The Planning Commission and Energy Committee wasted no time brainstorming ways to have municipalities such as South Burlington play a more engaged role in the future of electric generation projects.
The SB Planning Commission and the Energy Committee decided on a joint meeting after Energy Committee member Don Cummings attended a Planning Commission meeting earlier this month. Cummings reviewed a drafted letter that commissioners would send to the Governor’s Commission and felt the Energy Committee could provide further input.
Director of Planning and Zoning Paul Conner began the March 12 meeting by giving the city bodies a run-down of the four current levels of review for energy projects at the state level. Each level is based on the degree of generated wattage.
Projects generating 10 kW or less are considered basic; the plans are small and municipalities do not need notification. The next level, 10-150 kW, would require a project notice with a form, map, and description. South Burlington has seen a half dozen over the last year and a half.
Projects requiring up to 2.2 MW require a 45 day notification to the city and abutters prior to application submittal. This allows time to hold a public hearing. The highest level is reserved for projects producing more than 2.2 MW.
“Any energy generation or transmission facility (renewable or not) is a power generation or transmission facility that is connected to the state grid (Green Mountain Power) is exempt from local zoning,” Conner said. “Consideration is at present for determination by the Public Service Board.”
Under current state law, municipalities with clearer energy policies have a stronger influence when they provide input, he said.
To that effect, South Burlington does have its own residential energy code, according to Cummings.
That is one of several projects the Energy Committee has worked on since its formation in 2005. The committee has contributed to the Comprehensive Plan, conducted a baseline study with UVM on where energy is used most effectively, ran the Switch South Burlington project, and worked on energy projects with the schools, among other things. The committee’s focus is on energy conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy development, Cummings said.
Conner shifted gears and briefly discussed the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ stance before the table proceeded to list off topics to recommend to the Governor’s Commission.
After an hour of sharing ideas, everyone agreed on the following six topics:
1. Where there is a local policy it should play a fairly significant role and be carefully considered.
2. Assist municipality to develop a policy that looks at both places and circumstances.
3. There may be a threshold below which input is not critical and above that is significant for review (power, size, amount of land used).
4. There should be state-level criteria to take into account the advantages and disadvantages of a project based on data such as wildlife mapping and other state reviews.
5. Balance cost and benefits of local and statewide needs (climate cost, natural resources, multi-benefit).
6. Find a way to remove barriers of certain types of review (i.e., solar rooftops).
The process is time sensitive; the Governor’s Commission is due to report to legislature and the governor by April 25. There will be a fourth public hearing on March 29 in Montpelier.
Commissioner Tracey Harrington moved to approve the language, have two members of each committee finalize the language with staff, and move this along to City Council. If the Council does not take this up before April 2 and send to the Governor’s Commission, the Planning Commission will send this directly to the Governor’s Commission. Commissioner Ted Riehle seconded, and the vote was unanimous. The Energy Committee also voted unanimously to approve this action.
Have something to say? Visit http://sitingcommission.vermont.gov/public_involvement to direct your recommendations before the final draft heads to the legislature.
SOURCE: Miranda Jonswold, Correspondent