Governor-elect Phil Scott wants to push lawmakers for a ban on industrial wind projects next year, but said this week he would settle for a temporary moratorium.
He might have a hard time getting either.
“We just passed — literally in June — Act 174,” Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee chair Chris Bray (D-Addison) said. “I really want to stay with and develop that planning process.”
Bray was referring to a new state law designed to give municipalities more say in siting energy projects.
Scott pledged during the election to push for a moratorium on large-scale wind projects, a heated issue in some parts of the state. This week, speaking to reporters at a press conference, he said he hopes for legislation to pass next year.
He was already hedging his expectations. “What I personally would like to see is to protect our ridgelines in perpetuity,” Scott said. “The reality is that won’t happen.”
Still, Scott expressed hope that he could convince legislators to agree to a short-term halt on wind projects.
Bray wasn’t willing to call Scott’s idea dead, but his objections indicated it’s highly unlikely that the Democratic majority would go along. “You run the risk of gutting the planning process,” Bray said.
Though developers expect the pace of wind projects to slow in Vermont, renewable-energy advocates will fight a moratorium simply to fend off the precedent.
Olivia Campbell Andersen, executive director of the trade group Renewable Energy Vermont, said her members will argue that a moratorium would be a job-killer for Vermont companies in the wind field. “These are local jobs,” she said.
If Scott fails to persuade the legislature to enact a wind moratorium, he will still have other powers at his disposal as governor, though perhaps nothing that is foolproof.
Simply issuing an executive order banning wind projects isn’t an option. At least, that’s what former governor Jim Douglas’ staff learned from a 2003 inquiry about doing just that.
In an email to Douglas’ staff, Public Service Board chair Jim Volz advised that an executive order would violate state law that gives the board authority over such decisions.
But Volz did advise Douglas’ staff that the Public Service Department could reject most projects. To do that, Volz advised, the department would have to establish evidence that a project doesn’t meet the state’s criteria.
“I don’t think that would be too hard in most instances because of the potential negative aesthetic and economic impacts,” Volz wrote. But he added, “Even then, there might be some projects that would meet the criteria, so a true moratorium would not be guaranteed.”
Scott is due to appoint a Public Service commissioner, who will be in charge of the department, before he takes office January 5. In February, he also has a chance to pick a new Public Service Board chair.
Correction, December 15, 2016: Olivia Campbell Andersen's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story.