House Scrutinizes Senate Renewable Energy Bill

Apr 2, 2013

Key members of the House are skeptical of a Senate bill that calls for a statewide study of the impact of renewable projects on Vermont’s environment.

Last week, after hours of often heated debate, the Senate passed a stripped-down measure of a bill that originally would have given towns more control in the state review of energy projects that are proposed for their communities.

The House Natural Resources and Energy Committee will consider the bill. But Chairman Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, said his committee will scrutinize whether it’s appropriate to spend state money to fund new research.

Klein played a key role in crafting the state’s sustainable energy policy, and he said it's time now to build generators. “I don’t want to stop anything from moving us forward,” said Klein, who added that he sees the bill as a major obstacle. “I’m all for discussion. I think what we’ll be able to do with this bill is weed out what really needs to be discussed.”

The original bill called for a three-year moratorium on all industrial wind projects in the state. So far, Klein has spoken to the bill's proponents, and he has asked them whether they could support any conditions that would make the construction of high elevation wind projects acceptable.

“The answer that I’ve gotten from them is ‘no,’” Klein recalled on Tuesday. “When I hear that and then I’m asked to look at a bill that talks about studying whether there are impacts on things, I have trouble justifying the two.”

Senate proponents are concerned that the House won’t fully vet what renewable tools are most appropriate.

“We have a variety of potential ways of reaching our renewable energy goals. Industrial wind on ridgelines is one such tool,” said Sen. Joseph Benning, R-Caledonia. “The question, I think, for a state that has limited resources and limited geographic area is: in examining our list of potential renewable tools, are there some that are better than others to be using in our mission of eventually reaching 90 percent renewable by 2050.”

Even without a moratorium, Benning said he hopes the Legislature will take the time to figure out which resources are economically and environmentally suitable.

Klein said the House will take testimony on the renewable energy bill this month, but it is unlikely to pass out of committee in its current form.