Power And The People: Citizen’s Role In Energy Projects

Power And The People: Citizen’s Role In Energy Projects

When an energy project like wind turbines or large-scale solar arrays are proposed to be built, affected landowners find they need to get a deep education on regulatory processes, and fast.  On the next Vermont Edition, we look at the quasi-judicial process for reviewing and approving those projects from the citizen’s perspective. Our guest is Annette Smith of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, who says there ought to be a less complicated, less litigious and less expensive way for people to play a role in deciding where energy projects are located.

Also in the program, the problem of “youth flight” and new study that looks at why people leave Vermont, and how they feel about the state when they’re gone. UVM geography professor Cheryl Morse shares the initial results of the Vermont Roots Migration Study that she co-leads.

Broadcast live on Tues., April 28 at 12 noon; rebroadcast at 7 p.m.

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APR. 14 2014

Editor’s note: This commentary is by Annette Smith, the executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment.

Nobody should be surprised by the easily anticipated opposition to the numerous proposed solar projects that are part of Green Mountain Power’s Rutland “Solar Capital” initiative. I will not call it a “plan” because plan implies that there has been some planning involved. Only GMP knows what that plan is. The corporation is not communicating with planners about “the plan.”

With one exception — the old landfill — all the sites that make up GMP’s 10mW Rutland solar initiative are on fields, some of which involve stream buffers and flood plains, most of which contain wetlands and agricultural soils and are in close proximity to neighbors. Even the landfill site raises issues because of proximity to neighbors. The Old Poor Farm site involves cutting trees and eliminating hiking trails.

Most of the developers have no connection to the Rutland region, and stand to make large profits from their investments. GMP has even petitioned the Public Service Board to keep the power output and prices they (that means you, the ratepayer) are paying to these solar developers confidential, a request the PSB wisely denied. The Rutland Herald would do a service to the community by digging into the financial structures of these deals, which apparently lead to hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in profits for those mostly out-of-state investors. Included in that analysis should be the sale of Renewable Energy Certificates out of state, which means that according to Federal Trade Commission guidelines, GMP cannot claim that these Rutland “Solar Capital” projects are renewable energy for Vermonters.

Solar developers work with the Rutland Economic Development Corp., not town or regional planners, to identify potential sites. They enter into power purchase agreements and develop their applications without any discussion with community members who learn about the projects when they are already far along in the development phase, including having what are essentially closed-door negotiations with state agencies of natural resources and agriculture.

Neighbors, marginalized by being labelled NIMBYs, who have legitimate concerns about aesthetics including glare, environmental issues, impacts on property values, and noise — yes, solar inverters hum and contain fans — find out about these solar projects when they receive letters during the required 45-day notice period, and then must scramble to understand the PSB process, dig into their own pockets to participate in what is truly an impossible process for anyone who is not a lawyer, with a virtual certainty based on recent precedent that the PSB will rubber stamp the application because the Legislature told them to approve standard offer (at above-market prices) solar projects as quickly as possible. Read the PSB’s approval of the precedent-setting Charlotte Solar project to understand the board’s reasoning.

Several of these large Rutland solar proposals are in close proximity to stores with flat roofs and large parking lots that are more appropriate locations that would lead to broader public acceptance. Working with town and regional planners and providing opportunities for public input in the development of proposals on the built landscape rather than green fields will result in successful renewable energy for Vermonters. There is a right way to do solar, which many people who find themselves labelled “opponents” want to support, utilizing better sites developed through collaboration.

The best way to assure that renewable energy in Vermont fails is for GMP to continue with its current model. Solar development is now so lucrative and legislative policies guiding the PSB are being interpreted so strictly that there is no impediment to covering every possible open field with solar panels.

Will GMP continue to exploit our state’s resources while ignoring our communities and the people who live here and sending the benefits out of state? It does not have to be this way. Solar panels are a symbol of progress for some, but for others they are as ugly as billboards. Unlike wind turbines which cannot be hidden, there are many appropriate sites for solar panels that will enable Vermont to meets our renewable energy goals while also protecting Vermont’s aesthetic and community values.

Proponents of solar, as I am, are right to be dismayed by GMP’s exploitive and disrespectful model which is doomed to failure. It is ironic that a California organization recently gave GMP an award for its solar development, at the same time opposition is increasing in Vermont because GMP is doing it all wrong.

This map shows the projects that make up GMP’s Rutland Solar Capital initiative. The 850kW site proposed for the Old Poor Farm was recently increased to 1mW. The 150kW site is the only community solar project and has been constructed. GMP sought confidential treatment for five of the seven projects shown on the map. The 150kW community solar project and the 2.3mW landfill project were not included in the request. All of the 1mW and larger projects are in various stages in the PSB permitting process.


PSB’s decision approving Charlotte Solar
Docket No. 7844
Page 39
Discussion The Neighbors request that we be “mindful of the precedent that will be set if this project is approved[.]“53  We are concerned that the siting of Standard-Offer projects in scenic rural areas or near residences raises significant issues with respect to aesthetics and orderly development.54 Standard-Offer projects would be better sited in areas with more compatible land uses and less scenic qualities than the case here. Despite our concerns, we do not conclude that the Project violates any of the substantive criteria of Section 248. The criteria reflect the Legislature’s determination of what standards a project must meet before we may determine that a project will promote the public good. As discussed below, the criteria do not require strict compliance with local enactments, nor do they forbid all adverse impacts from development. We are also mindful that the Legislature has expressed a strong desire for a large number of Standard-Offer projects to be built and to be deployed quickly.

Regarding potential impacts on agricultural soils, I note that AAFM has withdrawn from the docket, stating that the Agency must adapt its resources to address challenges to agricultural soils other than solar facilities and can no longer routinely participate in solar facility project dockets.

Barton Solar MOU with ANR
Nearly the entirety of the existing field where the solar array is proposed to be located is a Class II Wetland.

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Moretown Forum, May 8, 2014


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Wind Forum, Grafton, February 21, 2014

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Forum on Industrial Wind Considers Property Values Slated for January 17 in Grafton, Vermont


Second in Series of Three Forums on Impact of Industrial Wind in Windham County

Forum on Industrial Wind Considers Property Values
Slated for January 17 in Grafton, Vermont

DANBY, VT—A public forum on the impact of industrial wind towers on property values will take place on Friday, January 17, at 6:30 p.m. at the White Church, 55 Main Street, Grafton. This is the second of three forums on Wind Development in Rural Communities sponsored by Vermonters for a Clean Environment, a statewide not-for-profit organization.

Michael McCann, a professional real estate appraiser, will be the main speaker. McCann is a Chicago based appraiser who has studied and appraised wind project impacts on property values from coast to coast, and has qualified and testified as an expert witness on this subject before various zoning boards, siting committees and litigated cases.

He brings 8 years of wind experience to Grafton on January 17, and will provide vital insight into the growing evidence of value impacts. He will inform attendees regarding appropriate methodology for such evaluations that meet professional and legal standards of evidence. He will present examples of independent value study results as well as wind industry funded studies, and provide a better understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different methodologies used.

Seminar attendees are advised that McCann is an unbiased professional, and is not an anti-wind spokesman or activist as some in the pro-wind industry have characterized him. His blunt and transparent studies have, however, effectively debunked the industry claim of “NO VALUE IMPACT”.

Joining Mike on the panel will be Vermont residents who live near the wind turbine project on Georgia Mountain and have experienced first-hand the impact on their property values. Annette Smith, Executive Director of VCE will facilitate.

Iberdrola Renewables, the fourth largest energy company in the world, has recently erected three MET towers (test towers), two in Windham and one in Grafton on land owned by New Hampshire-based Meadowsend Timberlands Limited. The towers are likely a precursor to an application for Windham County’s first utility-scale wind turbine development.

All are welcome to attend this free event. Pizza and beverages will be served.
The next forum on the impacts of industrial wind will be held on Friday evening, February 21.

Vermonters for a Clean Environment is a statewide non-profit environmental advocacy organization that focuses on ensuring citizens have a voice in the permitting, regulatory, and legislative processes.

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VCE’s Amended Motion for Summary Judgment in Deerfield Wind case

On Friday, Nov. 22, 2013, VCE and other plaintiffs filed this amended motion for Summary Judgment against the US Forest Service over their approval of a Special Use permit for Spanish Iberdrola’s big wind project.  The memorandum of law in support of the motion can be read here: 2013-11-22 AMSJ FINAL


Plaintiffs move this Court for an order granting summary judgment in their favor.


The issue in this case is whether the U.S.D.A. Forest Service should be permitted to grant a permit to a private company to erect 15 wind turbines—eight of which are 415 feet high and seven of which are 399 feet high, and which measure 16-feet in diameter at their bases—on unspoiled ridgelines only 1.3 miles from the George D. Aiken Wilderness (Final Environmental Impact Statement [“FEIS”] at 148; A.R. 03C.00650; Supplemental Information Report (“SIR” at 2; A.R. 18F.00064; Appendix to Plaintiffs’ Motion for Summary Judgment [“App.”] at 26 and 128), when (a) the wind turbines would strip the Aiken of its wilderness characteristics, and (b) the Forest Service has failed to study adequately or fully disclose the harm to the environment the project would cause.



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Wind forum set for Friday in Townshend


By MIKE FAHER / Reformer Staff

POSTED:   11/20/2013 03:00:00 AM EST

TOWNSHEND — Though Windham County does not yet host any commercial-size turbines, windpower continues to be a hot topic.

That’s why Vermonters for a Clean Environment chose Townshend to host the first of three public forums on the possible impacts of large-scale windmills.

The session is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Friday at Townshend United Church of Christ on the Townshend Common.

“We’re providing education about some of the issues that are of concern to people who live in areas where there are wind projects proposed,” said Annette Smith, executive director of the Danby-based organization.

“This is going to focus on noise, which is one of the big issues,” said Smith, who has been a vocal opponent of turbine development. “I spend most of my time dealing with noise issues.”

Wind giant Iberdrola Renewables last year received state permission to erect three meteorological-testing towers on privately-owned land in the towns of Windham and Grafton.

Those towers, depending on the weather data they generate, could lay the groundwork for Iberdrola to seek permission to build turbines in that area. A company spokesman has said no decision is expected until next year.

But even the test towers have spurred controversy, particularly in Windham, which prohibits commercial-scale wind turbines in its town plan.

Iberdrola has participated in some local windpower forums; one meeting last year in Windham featured company representatives alongside opponents including Smith.

But the Iberdrola won’t be present at Friday’s session, and that’s by design.

“I found it to be a pretty useless format,” Smith said of the pro-and-con setup of some previous meetings. “You couldn’t really zero in on anything.”

Instead, she says, “we’re going to bring some focus to this.”

By that, Smith means an emphasis on what turbine opponents believe are the “noise and health effects of industrial wind.”

The session will feature Stephen Ambrose, a Maine-based civil engineer who has testified before Vermont legislative committees regarding noise generated by turbines.

“He speaks in layperson terms, and he does it in a way that you can understand,” Smith said. “He can speak specifically to what the health effects are, because he has experienced them himself.”

Also expected to attend are residents who live near Groton Wind Farm in New Hampshire and Hoosac Wind Project in Massachusetts. Both were developed by Iberdrola.

“We’ve got a lot of cross-pollination with the various states going on,” Smith said.

The meeting will be hosted by state Sen. Peter Galbraith, a Townshend-based Democrat who has voiced opposition to large-scale turbine development.

Organizers said the meeting will include discussion of the Windham-Grafton test towers. Maps showing where those towers have been erected — along with potential turbine sites — will be distributed.

Vermonters for a Clean Environment plans two more windpower forums, though a location has not been finalized. The January session will focus on property values.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.

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