Town and village officials are working with the regional planning commission on a road map for meeting Vermont’s energy saving goals in a move that could give local municipalities more say over where renewable projects can be sited here.
Town planning commissioners received a conceptual energy plan last month curated by the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission, which is assisting municipalities with drafting their own enhanced energy plans in response to Act 174.
That 2016 law offers municipalities a greater say in the energy siting process if local plans are compatible with state and regional goals, including Vermont’s ambitious target of 90 percent renewable energy by 2050.
Currently, a quasi-judicial three-member board known as the Public Utility Commission regulates the siting of renewable energy projects. Municipalities can weigh in on the projects, but the PUC maintains final say, causing tension in some Vermont communities.
Now, municipalities that adopt enhanced energy plans are given greater weight – or “substantial deference” – in the state’s permitting process.
Melanie Needle, a senior planner with the CCRPC, outlined requirements for such plans, including an analysis of current energy use and a projection of future use, a goal for renewable energy generation and a map of preferred and inappropriate project sites.
The plan must also include actions the town and village could take to meet the state’s energy goals related to conservation, transportation, land use and siting.
Needle’s draft showed several targets aimed at trimming the individual footprints of the town and village, including switching over to electric cars, encouraging more carpooling and calling on nearly all businesses and homes to increase their energy efficiency.
Town planner Darren Schibler stressed the plan is in its conceptual stage and declined to comment further, explaining the planning department would prefer to wait until the plan is finalized. The village PC has yet to review the plan.
But Needle said the local work is on pace with other county municipalities. “They are right where they need to be,” she said.
Among the many decisions still up in the air, the municipalities will need to confront the question of how they can encourage developers to strive toward any targets dictated by the plan.
They will also need to make some decisions on timing. If the town and village decide to adopt the plan, they must then incorporate it into their respective town plans before earning added sway with the PUC. The village plan is set for revisions next year, but the town’s won’t expire until 2024.
Adopted in 2016, the town plan already references the state’s 90 percent goal and says Essex must develop and implement plans that “aggressively change the way in which we view energy” cost, use and conservation. While that plan references a yet-to-be-developed energy plan, it recommends more comprehensive siting standards in the next revision, which it says would better prepare the town for large-scale renewable energy sites.