MONTPELIER, Vt. – Foes of mountaintop wind power in Vermont were dealt a setback Tuesday when a bill calling for more study of large-scale renewable energy development was significantly reduced in scope.
Though the bill won preliminary approval in the Senate, it was only after provision calling for a slowdown of such development was scaled back, then removed completely.
People on both sides of the debate said the legislation pitted one environmental good against another: protecting Vermont’s pristine landscapes from rapid development, especially of wind power sites but also solar and wood-fired electrical generators, versus promoting those power sources in the hopes of reducing reliance on fossil fuels.
Critics have charged that renewable energy projects have been OK’d too easily without giving abutters enough say in the review process.
“Push has come to shove. Are you serious about global warming or are you not?” asked Sen. Richard McCormack, D-Windsor. “I’m going to vote against the bill, and I’m going to break my own heart doing it.”
In the end, McCormack was part of the 24-6 majority that supported the measure, but only after an amendment offered by Sen. David Zuckerman, D-Chittenden, removed its most hotly debated provisions.
The sections deleted by the Zuckerman amendment would have called for the state utility regulator to give more weight to local and regional land-use plans and less to its traditional standard of determining whether a project was “in the general good of the state.” The change in review standards was to last only until July 1, 2014, leading some to question how effective it would be, given the dearth of applications for big wind projects.