Legislature to meet Thursday to rework solar siting bill

MONTPELIER — The Vermont General Assembly will meet on Thursday, June 9, to address Gov. Peter Shumlin’s recent veto of S.230, also known as the solar siting bill.

Shumlin vetoed the bill on Monday. The law was designed to give greater say in the siting of solar projects to communities that draft energy plans that are compatible with the state’s renewable energy goals. Some town officials have expressed frustration at the current system, which gives the three-member Vermont Public Service Board broad powers in the permitting of renewable energy projects.

The PSB review process has drawn significant protest in Addison County — and particularly in the town of New Haven — which has proved a popular spot for solar energy projects. Last month New Haven sued the PSB, claiming in a Supreme Court brief that the board did not follow its own rules in OK’ing a solar project.

Shumlin cited four specific problems with bill S.230 — two of them having to do with regulation of wind power generation — and asked the Legislature to reconvene on Thursday to make changes to S.230 so he could sign it.

“S.230 was finalized very late in the legislative session, and unintended changes were made at the last minute,” Shumlin said in a press release. “After consulting with legal experts at the Public Service Department and the Public Service Board, I have determined that in a few critical instances the language in the bill does not match what I understand to be the intent of the Legislature.”

Shumlin wants the Legislature to return on Thursday to change four aspects of the bill:

“First, in seeking temporary rules for new wind sound standards the bill unintentionally invokes a provision in 3 V.S.A. 844(a) that would make Vermont the first state in the country to declare a public health emergency around wind energy, without peer-reviewed science backing that assertion up.

“Second, in setting a ceiling for new temporary wind sound standards, the bill unintentionally relies on a standard used in a small 150 kilowatt project as the standard for all wind, large and small, going forward. That standard, a complex and variable formula that would require no sound higher than 10 decibels above ambient background, could have the clearly unintended effect of pushing wind projects closer to homes where the background noise is higher.

“A third concern is a provision in the bill requiring notice of certificates of public good to be filed with land records, which could create problems for residential solar customers when they go to sell their home.

“Finally, $300,000 in planning funds for communities was unintentionally left out of the bill.”

Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven, is chairman of the Senate Natural Resources & Energy Committee that crafted S.230. Bray sent an email message to his fellow legislators on Monday urging them to salvage S.230. He included a draft of a replacement bill that he said “fixes the items cited by the governor.”

“The achievability of this ‘fix’ is reflected in the draft bill itself: in a 43 page bill there are only 14 changed lines, and one section inserted (Section 10A was left out of the final bill due to a drafting error),” he said. “In short, the changes are very narrow, maintain all the original provisions, and precisely correct the ambiguities which caused the veto. 

“This Thursday, I hope to see the Senate and House come together one more time to get our best work — a ‘replacement’ S.230 — passed into law,” he added.

The Independent will update this story following Thursday’s special legislative session.

Bray’s hope for a fast and fruitful special session was facing some push-back as the Independent went to press Wednesday afternoon.

VT Digger reported that House Republican Leader Rep. Don Turner, R-Milton, said his caucus is prepared to support an override of Shumlin’s veto, but would oppose any attempt to modify the bill. An override would require a two-thirds majority vote of lawmakers, while passage of a new bill would require a simple majority.

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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