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Vermont’s Energy Plan: We Can Build Renewable Energy Generation and Protect our Landscape

Posted by Karen Horn on 29 July 2015

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The deadline to submit the first round of written comments to guide the development of the next Comprehensive Energy Plan to the Public Service Department (PSD) was last Friday, July 24. In hearings around the state, the PSD emphasized that they will continue to take comments as they work to update Vermont’s Comprehensive Energy Plan. The current plan, adopted in December 2011, established a goal of obtaining 90 percent of the state’s total energy needs from renewable sources by 2050. Today, Vermont’s total energy generation from renewable sources is at 16 percent.

Please take the time to contribute your own recommendations at Input from local leaders is essential to developing a sustainable energy future that works for all Vermonters. Municipal officials are in a unique position to explain the impacts of renewable energy projects on their communities and, despite a lot of rhetoric to the contrary, local governments have been addressing energy matters in their municipal comprehensive plans for some time. Like the state and even the PSD and Public Service Board (PSB), however, they have been caught flat-footed by the surge in solar and wind proposals in the last several years.

Yesterday, the PSD convened the first meeting of the Solar Siting Task Force, which was created as part of Act 56 (H.40) to address concerns raised about the siting of solar facilities around the state. The task force was included in H.40 on the Senate floor towards the end of the legislative session as a compromise amendment after two days of vigorous debate along with close votes about the PSB process for siting renewable energy generation projects, particularly wind and solar. VLCT has a seat on the task force.

PSD Commissioner Chris Recchia is scheduled to update attendees to VLCT’s Town Fair on October 8 about the progress of the Comprehensive Energy Plan, the Solar Siting Task Force along with and meetings of the legislative Joint Energy Committee (also called for in Act 56). But don’t wait until October! Submit your strategies now to achieve Vermont’s ambitious goals in renewable energy, greenhouse gas reductions, and building efficiency. The PSD wants the money we spend on imported energy – about one billion dollars annually – to come back to our state and into our economy. They want to promote energy efficiency and renewable and distributed energy generation. And they want to ensure a sustainable future for Vermont. (Don’t we all?!)

Deployment of renewable energy projects is playing out on our landscape in a frequently divisive manner that is dismissive of many municipal considerations. The question should not just be How does Vermont achieve its energy goal of 50 percent renewable by 2050? but rather How does Vermont achieve its energy goals while keeping faith with its locally based land use values and without destroying much of the landscape that state and local policies have been designed to protect?

Vermonters can do this! We can ensure that the PSB permitting process balances the public good of a secure and sustainable energy future with the localized public good of adherence to adopted municipal plans and recommendations. The process can give preference to community-scale energy generation facilities – those that conform to municipal siting criteria – and to clear community standards of scale, density, environmental protection, and aesthetics in adopted municipal and regional plans. We just need to agree as a state that a strong, renewable energy future is one that sits comfortably in the treasured landscape of these green mountains.

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