A lot of you probably know this already, but I just found out and frankly, I’m stupefied.
In the criteria for approving new energy projects, climate change is practically reduced to a footnote.
For those just joining us, here’s the process as I understand it. Let’s say a developer wants to build a ground-based solar array to produce clean energy. It applies to the Public Service Department for a “certificate of public good.” The PSD goes through a very complicated process to determine whether a CPG is in order. It reports to the Public Utility Commission, a three-member “quasi-judicial body” that decides to issue or deny the CPG.
In the process, the PSD and PUC consider numerous factors. And climate change merits nothing more than a kinda-sorta passing mention.
Can somebody explain that to me?
Because to my mind, there is no greater public good than mitigating climate change. Is that not patently obvious?
The criteria for a CPG are established in state law. Specifically, in 30 V.S.A. § 248. The list of criteria includes:
- The project must “not unduly interfere with the orderly development of the region.”
- A ground-based solar array must comply with relevant municipal bylaws, unless the PUC determines that the bylaws are overly restrictive.
- The PUC “shall give substantial deference to the land conservation measures and specific policies contained in a duly adopted regional and municipal plan.”
- The project “Is required to meet the need for present and future demand for service that could not otherwise be provided in a more cost-effective manner.”
- It “will not adversely affect system stability and reliability.”
- It “will result in an economic benefit to the State and its residents.”
- It “will not have an undue adverse effect on aesthetics, historic sites, air and water purity, the natural environment, the use of natural resources, and the public health and safety.” This section says “due consideration” must be given to a variety of criteria, including impact on agricultural soils and “greenhouse gas impacts.”
There it is! You have to wade through regional development, local laws, land conservation plans, the stability of the electric grid, the economic benefit, and a laundry list of esthetic, historical and environmental impacts — and then, and only then does “greenhouse gas impacts” get the briefest of mentions.
The list of criteria continues:
- A company’s investment in the project must be “consistent with the principles for resource selection expressed in that company’s approved least-cost integrated plan.” So, cost again.
- The project must comply “with the electric energy plan approved by the [Public Service] Department.”
- It cannot have an undue impact on waters “designated as outstanding resource waters by the Secretary of Natural Resources.”
This section of the law goes on and on and on, so much so that I won’t even try to count the paragraphs. And climate change, the most urgent issue facing the planet, is practically buried in a morass of criteria.
To me, that’s just fucknuts dumb. Climate change ought to get star billing. It should be printed in bright neon colors in a bold underlined font, preferably at least 48 point. It ought to scream at you off the page.
It ought to be the first among all the criteria — something the PSD and PUC absolutely cannot ignore. They should still have the power to deny a renewable project, but only if they can make a compelling case for their decision.
If the law were written that way, we wouldn’t have to worry about arguments and decisions that, at most, barely touch on climate change. We wouldn’t get absurdities like the PSD’s six-year effort to find David Blittersdorf guilty of some picayune offense — any picayune offense would do — for building a meteorological tower that helped decide if a wind farm was feasible on his land.
And we wouldn’t get the PSD bending over backwards to deny a CPG to a proposed solar array in Manchester Town. The PSD’s hearing officer recommends killing the project for esthetic reasons — even though the town Select Board and Planning Commission both approved the plan. Planning Director Janet Hurley told the Bennington Banner that opposition to the project involves “a handful of people” who live near the site.
In case you think Hurley is a pro-solar fanatic, the hearing officer himself wrote that the project would be visible to “approximately 10 residences or businesses.”
It’s ridiculous. It’s counterproductive, it’s sad, and it’s stupid. It’s a big fat barrier to developing our portfolio of home-grown renewable energy. And it’s the result of a law that fails to properly account for climate change in energy decision-making.
Can we please update this thing?
I mean, after all, if we allow climate change to come at us like a Shinkansen, our precious esthetic resources, our view sheds, our flora and fauna and our waters, outstanding or otherwise, will not be spared in the onslaught.