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October 25, 2011

Green Mountain Power Sets Good Precedent on “Bad” Project

Green Mountain Power says that it will try to collect damages from those who obstruct its already-permitted and approved Lowell Mountain wind project. It would be a wonderful precedent for Vermont if the cost of post-permitting delays were born by those who cause the delays. There's no good reason why Vermont ratepayers should be saddled with both the extra cost of wind power and the extra-extra cost of harassing delay tactics by project opponents. If we establish the principle of delayer pays once a project has been approved, we will be able both to protect the environment with tough standards and attract good projects, whose sponsors will appreciate the certainty once approval has been achieved.

I actually don't think the 21 turbine Lowell project is a good idea. It will supply a negligible amount of amount of not-very-dependable power at a high price even after various subsidies. We can literally get hundreds of times more carbon-free kilowatt hours reliably at 20% of the price with no further subsidies just by keeping Vermont Yankee open. But I – and other opponents – had the opportunity to make our case before the Public Service Board and failed to do so. We didn't succeed in convincing the Vermont legislature to be responsible about Yankee or to be realistic about the cost of "green" electricity. The town of Lowell voted overwhelmingly in favor of the project, despite the fact that they'll be able to see the turbines on the ridge. We opponents lost; we don't have a right to impose penalty costs on the project now that it's been approved – although we can catalog the actual costs and try to block similar projects from being approved in the future.

Every project of any consequence is in someone's backyard. Every project will have opponents. Some projects shouldn't get approvals for environmental or other reasons. Opposing a project during the hearing and approval process is both legitimate and necessary if you think the project is harmful. Projects like Lowell Wind, which impose extra costs on ratepayers in return for dubious benefits, merit opposition. But, once a project has won approval and assuming it complies with the conditions of approval, we don't have a right to impose penalty costs and delay on the developer.

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