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Warren PC hears from Public Service Board on wind towers and Town Plans

Currently, all applications to construct wind towers in Vermont fall under the jurisdiction of the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB), which can issue a Certificate of Public Good for a project after considering factors such as aesthetics and economic benefit.

The PSB also considers a town's wind energy policy, and after the Warren Planning Commission opened up discussion about updating its own policy this past spring, it asked PSB renewable development director Anne Margolis to its meeting on Monday, September 23, for advice.

When drafting a wind energy policy "more specificity is helpful," Margolis said, explaining that a Town Plan would do better to name specific lakes or ridgelines in which development would be detrimental rather than restricting development on all lakes and ridgelines.

To date, the PSB has issued Certificates of Public Good for several industrial, high-profile wind energy projects, including those in Lowell, Sheffield and Georgia Mountain. "From what we know of the wind in the jurisdiction of Warren, an industrial-size project doesn't really make sense," planning commission chair Craig Klofach said, but he asked how land not under the jurisdiction of the town would be considered by the board.

According to Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) senior planner and policy analyst Billy Coster, "current ANR policy is not to support large-scale wind [on state land]," he said.

Coster attended Monday's meeting with Margolis because "we're basically the PSB's people on the environment," he said, explaining that his division of the ANR gives the board an objective recommendation based on the environmental impacts of a proposed development project.

Specificity relating to environmental impact in a Town Plan can hold a lot weight, Coster said, especially "if you can show that it's a plan that's intentional and well informed ... and not just reactionary," Coster said.

One example of the specificity Coster recommended could come from the Warren Conservation Commission, which on Monday informed the planning commission of its current project: a townwide wildlife corridor study that will identify areas in Warren that are home to diverse communities of animals that the town should prioritize protecting.

The information gleaned from that study, Coster said, would be very helpful if cited in an updated wind energy policy, as habitat fragmentation "is very much at the fore of conversations [concerning development projects]," he said. "It's great that the community [in Warren] can realize that and make that investment."

Moving forward, the Warren Planning Commission plans to change its focus from the size of wind towers—although those will still be considered—and, like the conservation commission, focus instead on land conservation as a guiding policy for energy development.

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