SWANTON — Seven 499-foot turbines proposed for Rocky Ridge may be the first major energy project in the state to face stringent scrutiny via the approval process of the newly configured Public Service Board.
The board, which will change its name to the Vermont Public Utility Commission starting Saturday, issued an order to Swanton Wind on June 22 that sets a higher standard of public accountability.
In today’s order, the Board initially denies a request by Swanton Wind to limit the amount of written discovery to be served going forward and to prohibit the taking of depositions, addresses the possibility of a motion from Swanton Wind seeking recovery of its expert witnesses’ fees incurred in responding to discovery, and defers establishing a schedule for the remainder of this proceeding until after Swanton Wind supplements its case, at a minimum, by filing a complete and final System Impact Study (“SIS”) along with any related prefiled testimony and exhibits.
The impact study is significant because it takes about a year to complete and is, essentially, a feasibility study. If the results aren’t favorable, a project can be denied.
Longtime industrial wind critic Annette Smith, executive director of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, praised the board’s decision.
“This is big news, what the board did,” she said. “This order that the board issued last week says that ‘we realize that in the past we’ve let things go forward, but this is a unique case,’ and so they are doing something new.”
According to Smith, the system impact study could be a big hurdle for the project. She described the process as “a sort of rudimentary study to show that it’s not going to screw up the grid.” In some cases, such as with Seneca Mountain Wind project in the Northeast Kingdom, the findings can prove a project unfeasible.
“The studies are performed to ensure that interconnected new projects will not adversely impact system reliability criteria and standards,” ISO New England spokesman Matt Kakley told True North Reports. “They typically consist of thermal, voltage, stability, and short-circuit analyses, and include studies related to interconnections of proposed generators, requests for an elective transmission expansion and requests for transmission service.”
Were Swanton Wind to meet the same fate as the Seneca Mountain proposal, it would not be without leaving a mark on the local economy. In addition to multiple utilities that have weighed in on the project, multiple towns, along with the Regional Planning Commission, have spent thousands of dollars.
“Easily $50,000 has been spent so far on a case where nobody knows who’s buying the power, there’s no need for the power,” Smith said. “They are planning to sell the power to Connecticut, (but) they don’t have a final contract for that. Nobody knows what’s going on there.”
Smith said this move by the PSB contrasts with its recent decision to approve the Ludlow Ranger Solar Project, which also lacked a Power Purchase Agreement and system impact study.
Local Swanton resident Sally Collopy, who lives around Rocky Ridge, has been following the project for years. She said she’s happy to see greater public accountability for the developer.
“I certainly don’t feel like the project is over, but it’s nice to see for a change the Public Service Board trying to do the right thing,” she said. “Especially with this System Impact Study, because the project should not move forward without it.”
Collopy said she also looks forward to learning what the new noise standards are going to be for wind projects in Vermont. Those standards are currently being debated by the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.
“I’m just really glad that the Public Service Board is finally doing the right thing and not allowing … CPGs (certificates of public good) without these studies done,” she said. “So, it is positive what is happening here. It’s a step in the right direction.”