By Mike Pohamus, VTDigger.org
Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a bill Monday, June 6, that supporters hoped would give communities greater say over the siting of renewable energy projects and bring new sound limits on wind turbines.
Shumlin said he supports the bill’s core provisions but last-minute amendments to the bill would unacceptably slow or halt renewable energy development.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell said the Senate will reconvene Thursday, June 9, to address the veto. House Speaker Shap Smith had said earlier in the day that it was likely legislators would reconvene to discuss whether to try to override the veto or change the language in the bill.
The man responsible more than any other for the bill’s authorship — Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison — said legislators are likely to collaborate across the aisle Thursday as they seek to resolve technical problems with the bill.
The governor said the bill, S.230, would effectively declare a public health emergency over the issue of wind energy, making Vermont the first state to do so. Available peer-reviewed research doesn’t support such a declaration, he said.
The bill would also force wind turbines, no matter the size, to comply with sound standards established for a single small 150-kilowatt project, Shumlin said in a statement. Those standards would permit sound no louder than 10 decibels above ambient background levels.
Another of the bill’s components could cause problems for residential solar customers as a result of filing requirements for renewable projects’ certificates of public good, Shumlin said.
Finally, the bill mistakenly lacks $300,000 that it was meant to set aside to train localities to draft energy plans that align with state energy goals, Shumlin said.
“I believe that taken together, the emergency declaration and the restrictive sound standards will make it impossible to continue to sensibly site renewable wind power in Vermont,” Shumlin wrote.
“Signing S.230 as drafted would take us backwards and take an important renewable energy technology off the table,” Shumlin said.
Shumlin said he decided to veto the bill after consulting legal experts at the Public Service Department and the Public Service Board.
The governor said he would work with legislators to arrive at some compromise that will allow the bill to move forward in a form acceptable to both branches of the government.
Smith said a veto override — which requires a two-thirds majority of the members present in each house — would be difficult because the bill was controversial in the House. He said the likeliest way to get the governor’s endorsement would be an adjustment of the noise standards.
In a statement, Campbell said: “I believe this bill is of significant importance to the people of Vermont. Its final fate deserves to be reviewed by the Legislature.”
The last such session came in 2009, when the Legislature overrode Gov. Jim Douglas’ vetoes of both the budget and legislation allowing gay marriage.
Some senators have criticized major House changes to this year’s energy bill that set off a flurry of last-minute revisions. The changes were meant to satisfy members of both chambers as well as the governor.
Bray said he believes what Shumlin objects to in the bill resulted from “tremendous pressure” legislators worked under to hammer out the bill’s particulars in the session’s waning hours. Lawmakers lacked time to sufficiently vet parts of the bill, such as the sound standards, Bray said.
House Minority Leader Don Turner, R-Milton, attributed Shumlin’s veto to pressure from the renewable energy industry and said the governor’s objections could have been addressed in next year’s legislative session rather than after adjournment.
The generally uncontested provisions of the bill deal with the siting process, which gives towns and regions authority to write energy plans showing where they believe projects should and shouldn’t go.
If the Department of Public Service certifies these plans as compatible with state energy goals, renewable energy developers must abide by the town’s wishes unless “clear and convincing” evidence shows that the good of the state necessitates otherwise.
Under S.230, the Public Service Board must afford towns’ approved energy plans “substantial deference” when weighing permit applications.
(VTDigger’s Anne Galloway contributed to this report.)