Gov. Peter Shumlin has vetoed legislation that would give towns an opportunity to have more say in the renewable energy siting process. And while Shumlin says he’s ready to work with lawmakers to salvage key aspects of the bill, Republican legislators are not in a mood to bargain.
Municipalities have been clamoring for years for more influence over the regulatory process used to determine where wind and solar projects should go. And Shumlin says he still wants to see them get it.
“It’s a good bill,” Shumlin said Monday. “It’ll give local communities more input, and I want to see it pass.”
But Shumlin says language in the bill dealing with sound standards for wind turbines would have severe consequences on the renewable energy industry.
“It makes it impossible to site future wind projects as long as that’s in place,” Shumlin says.
On Monday, Shumlin used his veto pen to kill the entire bill. Despite that maneuver, Shumlin says he hopes it isn’t the end of the road for the legislation.
“We’re working with the chairs of the committees as well as the speaker of the house to come up with a fix that we think is smart and reasonable,” he says.
Lawmakers will return to Montpelier for a veto session this Thursday. House Speaker Shap Smith says there’s a way to resolve concerns about the legislation’s impact on wind projects while retaining the provisions that could give towns greater standing in regulatory proceedings.
“I believe that a compromise plan can be ready to pass on Thursday,” Smith says. “What it’s going to require is everybody to agree to it.”
The route to compromise involves the creation of a new piece of legislation. That new bill would then become a repository for the elements of the renewable energy siting bill that most lawmakers do agree on. There’s one big problem with that plan:
“We’re not willing to do that,” says House Minority Leader Don Turner. “We’re not doing it.”
If Turner’s Republican caucus stands united, it’ll have the power to squelch the compromise. That’s because passing a new bill will require numerous rules suspensions in the one-day that lawmakers have allotted to deal with the problem. And while House Republicans may be in the minority, they have the numbers needed to reject rules suspensions.
Turner says the renewable energy bill was so watered down by the time it made it to Shumlin’s desk that it makes more sense to start over on a better bill in 2017.
“We have compromised to the point that there is no more room for compromise,” Turner says.
Smith doesn’t argue that Republicans will hold the cards on Thursday. But he says it’d be a shame if they used their power to play election-year politics.
“And I think in this instance there are politics at play and I am very concerned that politics might trump policy on this one, but we’ll see what happens,” Smith says.
Turner says Smith's accusations of playing politics have no merit. Turner says Democrats have had control of the Legislature and the governor’s office for six years, and that if they cared about addressing residents’ concerns about the renewable energy siting process, they would have done it by now.
Shumlin says in addition to holding new wind projects to impossibly low sound standards, the legislation requires the Public Service Board to initiate emergency rulemaking, a process generally reserved only for instances in which public health is at risk.
“What this bill does, unintended, is say that Vermont would be the first state in America to say that wind power and the sound from it constitutes a medical emergency, when there is no scientific data to suggest that noise is a health hazard,” Shumlin says.
Shumlin says the bill also fails to appropriate the $300,000 that was supposed to help towns and cities develop the energy plans they’ll need in order to win heightened influence in the regulatory process.
Turner also says Shumlin’s reasons for vetoing the bill don’t hold water. On Tuesday afternoon, Republicans will gather with opponents of mountaintop wind turbines to outline reasons they think the Legislature should override the governor’s veto.
The Senate will take up the bill first on Thursday. Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a longtime critic of the renewable-energy siting process, says he’s doesn’t think the problems with the bill were severe enough to warrant a veto.
Campbell says he’s open to the idea of a compromise measure, but that he’s doubtful the Legislature will have the time to put one together in the single day they have to resolve the issue.