The Windies change direction

On the eve of a committee vote, backers of new restrictions on utility-scale wind projects have dropped a three-year moratorium from their legislation. The Senate Natural Resources Committee, which includes three ardent opponents of wind energy, will take up the revised S.30 tomorrow morning.

The moratorium’s removal comes on the same day a new poll was released, that shows continued strong support for wind energy in Vermont. The Castleton Polling Institute survey showed:

To the question, “Do you support or oppose building wind energy turbines along the state’s ridge lines?”  66% said yes, 19% said no, and 14% were not sure.

When asked if you would favor or oppose “a wind farm in your community,” 69% said yes, 19% said no, and 12% were undecided.

And when asked if the state “should subsidize alternative energy generation,” 66% said yes, 20% said no, and 14% were undecided.

Support for utility-scale wind was strong across the board — male/female, party affiliation, household income, educational level. The top-line result was essentially identical to the numbers in a Castleton poll taken in May 2012 — 69% support, 17% oppose, 13% not sure.

I’m sure the Windies will scoff, and perhaps point to the infamous Castleton survey of the Democratic Attorney General primary last August, which gave Bill Sorrell a big lead over TJ Donovan with two weeks left in the race. But that was an outlier; Castleton has otherwise been reasonably accurate. Also, the poll showed a huge number of undecideds, and a low-turnout primary is much more volatile than a statewide race or issue. And in the case of wind, we have two polls, taken nine months apart, with fairly-worded questions, that show the same result. I don’t think you can ignore the results.

Now, back to the Senate Natural Resources Committee.

Until today, the panel had been considering two bills — S.30, the three-year moratorium; and S.21, which would make new wind projects subject to the Act 250 process. What the committee did today was to merge the two bills into one — a new S.30  — removing the moratorium and adding some new provisions.

At first glance, this seems to be bad news for the Windies. And indeed, the most prominent Windy, Annette Smith, told VTDigger that the new S.30 isn’t strong enough.

But the state’s leading environmental groups, which support a measured expansion of wind, aren’t happy either. They see the new S.30 as more politically palatable than the moratorium, and believe it has a better chance of passing in the Senate.

I haven’t seen the legislation; the new version hasn’t yet been posted online. But I’ve heard that the new S.30 adds some poison pills — new obstacles in the path of wind development. It reportedly includes a one-year “suspension” — not a moratorium, but effectively the same thing for a shorter period. It would also force wind projects to go through the Act 250 process plus the Act 248 process they’re already subject to, banish development on conserved land, bar development on land higher than 2500 feet above sea level*, and force any public official to disclose any payments received from developers.

*This provision reportedly touched off a debate between fellow Windies Sen. John Rodgers and the Slummin’ Solon, Peter Galbraith. Rodgers feared that the new S.30 would limit expansion of ski areas. To which Galbraith apparently replied, well, that’s kinda the point, isn’t it? Protecting mountains? I hope to have more on this in the near future.

The bill would also allocate $100,000 for a new study of economic, health, environmental, and even property-value implications of utility-scale wind projects.

The new S.30 is certain to sail through the Windy-heavy Natural Resources Committee. The next big test is on the Senate floor. If it passes the Senate, it would face an uncertain future in the House, where Speaker Shap Smith has said he wants to put off new legislation until the Governor’s Siting Commission issues its report. That’s not expected until April, near the close of the legislative session. If Smith sticks to his guns, S.30 faces long odds in the House.

And Governor Shumlin, who supports wind as part of an expanded renewables portfolio, would need a lot of convincing if S.30 were to somehow reach his desk.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *