Siting bill: a good deal that nobody will like

It was a heck of a last act by Tony Klein, retiring chair of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee. This week, he shepherded an energy siting bill through the House and on to a conference committee. His reward: the bill’s drawing fire from both sides. It even sparked astoundingly different takes from VTDigger (emphasizing the dissatisfaction of opponents) and Seven Days (reporting a “surprising change in direction” by the House).

The key provision in the bill would give “substantial deference” in siting decisions to local governments — if they have adopted a state-approved energy plan. It’s not enough for supporters of local control.

“You get substantial deference … if you do what they want you to do,” said Rep. Cynthia Browning, D-Arlington. “That’s not substantial deference in my definition of the word. It doesn’t seem like substantial deference or any greater decision-making power for localities to me.”

On the other hand, some renewable-energy proponents worry that the bill would make it harder for Vermont to reach its energy goals. Anthony Iarrapino, a lawyer who represents renewable developers, told Seven Days “We’re not going to get to the targets with solar in parking lots and a single wind turbine in backyards.”

Klein has been a staunch supporter of renewables, but he had to address the concerns of renewable opponents because they’ve pretty much had the field to themselves. As I wrote earlier this year, the environmental community has been oddly silent on renewable issues. They favor the state’s energy goals, but have failed to get in the trenches and fight for the means to get us there. Their silence has made the opponents seem that much louder.

Klein’s solution gives significant input to communities, as long as they’ve got a reasonable siting plan in place. If what they really want is a complete ban, they’re out of luck. Each community has to be responsible for playing a productive role in our energy future.

Of course, what the anti-renewables really want is the power to impose a complete ban. That’s a selfish and irresponsible attitude.

“People feel they’ve been injured,” Klein said. “Well I ask you, what industry, what project, what development — what anything in this state, or in this world, has a requirement to satisfy 100 percent of the people within the area of a project being built? Has there ever been a store, a house, a mall … that every single resident in that area said, ‘Oh, that’s wonderful’?”

Klein also managed to craft a bill that isn’t too far removed from the Senate version. This conference committee should have an easier time than most, and the final version will be a pretty good effort to satisfy everyone’s concerns.

And, of course, it won’t.

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