The Word in the House 5/2/2013 - Siting of Electric Generation Facilities

The Legislature is in the final weeks of the session, and the number of bills coming to the floor for a vote each week number in the dozens.  Many are technical and non-controversial in nature and are passed after an explanation of their provisions by a member of the committee that had primary responsibility for the bill.  Some bills, previously passed by the House that came back with changes made by the Senate, have been voted on again, either to concur with the changes and to send them on to the Governor, or to disagree with the changes and to commit them to a conference committee.  Conference committees consist of three members of the House and three members of the Senate.  If a compromise is agreed to in conference, the bill comes back to the floor of each body and is voted up or down with no other amendments allowed.

Last week one of the Senate bills that were voted on by the House was S.30, which deals with the siting of electric generation plants.  S.30 started as a call for a three year moratorium on wind generation projects along Vermont ridgelines.  By the time it was voted out of the Senate, it had been reduced to requiring a study of environmental, health and economic effects of wind projects to be conducted by the Department of Public Service with the assistance of the Agency of Natural Resources, the Department of Health, the Department of Taxes, the Agency of Commerce and Economic Development, the Public Service Board, and several other entities.  It was not clear whether this was to be a study of studies or would consist of original research.  Furthermore, only $75,000 was allocated for the study and it had to be completed by November 15, 2013. 

The bill was assigned to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee on which I serve.  We took two weeks of testimony, hearing 50 witnesses including property owners near the Lowell and Sheffield wind farms, health experts, and representatives from the affected state agencies and departments, from environmental organizations, and from regional and local planning commissions. Several witnesses reviewed with us studies dealing with many of the topics included in the bill.  We also heard from the Governor’s Energy Generation Siting Policy Commission, which had been established to study exactly the issues raised by the Senate and which was about to issue its report.  The common threads we heard throughout included:

·         Keep the conversation going.  All the concerns need to be considered and addressed.

·         Use the recommendations of the Governor’s Siting Commission.  Many experts have done a lot of work to examine the problems and propose solutions.

·         Maintain a balanced approach.  Make sure the legislative process is not weighted toward a pro- or anti-wind bias.

After reviewing the testimony, our committee decided unanimously to alter S.30, limiting it to a review of the Siting Commission’s recommendations with the goal of developing appropriate legislation on the siting of any electrical generation facilities taking into consideration Act 250 and the PSB’s Section 248 process, regional and local plans, setbacks from residences, and other concerns. This work will be done by the Natural Resource Committees of the House and Senate meeting together up to six times between now and December.  The bill passed the House on a vote of 140-3 and now goes back to the Senate which is expected to concur.  I look forward to being part of this effort later this year.

The past week and a half also saw legislation passed that requires public employees’ unions to assess a “fair share” fee on non-union members for the benefits they receive through the bargaining process and for grievance representation which unions are required to do.  A supplemental education finance bill, H.538, was also passed which is expected to save about $5.5M of education spending if implemented.  The various provisions of H.538 have different levels of support from different constituencies.  While everyone seemed to find something they didn’t like in the bill, overall it received overwhelming support and passed on a vote of 110-24.

I have heard from many of you on a variety of topics and continue to welcome your input.  You can email me at or call me at 425-3960.