By Kirk Carapezza
There’s a lot of arm-twisting going on in the halls of the Statehouse today, after the Senate delayed a much-anticipated, much-contested vote on a bill that would subject renewable energy projects to more regulation.
For months, the bill has divided environmentalists over the role of Act 250, Vermont’s development control law. Even Sen. Bernie Sanders stepped into the fray last month, expressing his opposition to what he and others see as an obstacle to ridgeline wind power projects in Vermont.
The bill’s backers argue it would allow renewable energy development to continue while authorizing cities and towns to block renewable projects proposed in their communities. Opponents say it would block clean energy projects that could slowly wean the state off its dependence on fossil fuels.
On Tuesday, the Senate Natural Resources Committee voted, 5-0, to send the bill to the Senate floor, but the lead sponsors then requested lawmakers be given more time to look at the latest iteration, which calls for creating a legislative commission that would consider local and regional plans in the development review process. That commission would also weigh the costs and benefits of selling renewable energy credits from Vermont projects to out-of-state utilities to meet their states’ clean energy requirements.
“It’s really, to me, a planning bill,” said Sen. Diane Snelling, R-Chittenden, who was slated to report the legislation before the Senate decided to pass over it. “It takes full advantage of what the commission has been working on and takes the legislative opportunity to preview their recommendations on statutory changes.”
Opponents, who say the bill would slow renewable energy development in Vermont, suggest the bill’s backers are stalling to lobby more votes. “I think the proponents of the legislation can count and they came to the conclusion that they were not going to win so they delayed the vote,” said Paul Burns, executive director of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group.
If the bill passes, Burns said it would undermine the state’s plan to develop clean energy in Vermont. “It is at odds not only with what most Vermonters would like to see done, but it’s at odds with what the state has committed to do.”
But Sen. Bob Hartwell, D-Bennington, a sponsor of the bill, said supporters have the votes necessary to advance it. With Lt. Governor Phil Scott in Washington for a conference and Senate President John Cambpell presiding, however, Hartwell said he wanted to wait until the Senate had all of its members.
“Whatever happens I think everybody should be here,” he said.
The Senate will decide tomorrow whether to take up the bill for a full debate.
UPDATE: The Senate President’s office says lawmakers will vote on the bill Tuesday.