Planning Commission erupts over Enhanced Energy Chapter

At the May 4 meeting of the Cavendish Planning Commission, heated words were exchanged over the language of the Enhanced Energy Chapter and its goals. Photo provided

CAVENDISH, Vt. – Tempers flared among commission members at the Cavendish Planning Commission meeting on May 4 as the group failed to agree on the final approval for the “enhanced energy chapter” that has been in process for the better part of four years. Planning Commission member John Saydek tendered his resignation days later, which he submitted to the selectboard at their May 9 meeting, but would provide “no comment” on his reasons for the sudden departure.

The language of the proposed chapter is taken almost directly from the regional energy plan and outlines goals set by the state for increased renewable energy capacity for 2035, increasing to 90% renewable energy by 2050. Adopting the state goals and incorporating them into an enhanced energy chapter in a town plan allows a town “substantial deference” when they participate in an Act 248 hearing, giving the town a “stakeholder position” in the permitting process which oversees energy projects.

Commission Chair Etienne Ting began by expressing his concern about meeting the goals set for 2050, saying that unless technology changes, including the global supply of raw materials needed, he didn’t think they would reach it.

Commission member Stephen Plunkard countered by saying that these were not regulations but merely goals, and that they were something the town could try to achieve. He continued by saying that he didn’t know why they were getting hung up on the language if there were no consequences for not meeting the goal.

New commission member Doug McBride, who is an attorney, said that the language included wording like “must ensure” and “all new development should be sited to accommodate solar” which to him was not a goal, but a directive. He said that he read this plan very differently than the other members and that, “They do not sound like goals that we don’t need to worry about.”

Plunkard characterized McBride’s objection as a “red herring,” saying his concern was “nonsense” since there was no consequences for not meeting the goals.

McBride responded that Plunkard’s comments were inappropriate and that he wouldn’t tolerate being spoken to that way. “I’m reading it differently, but it’s not ‘nonsense’ for me to say what I feel and what I believe,” he said.

Attending participant and Energy Committee member Peter LaBelle, who is the author of the energy paragraph and subsequent rewrites, called out McBride for refusing to meet with him to go over suggested edits.

McBride said that he didn’t think it was appropriate to make edits outside of the commission meeting. He added that if the commission didn’t share his concern for the language, that they could vote on the paragraph as it is and move along, but that he had done his job to share his concerns.

Ting said that he didn’t think that was the feeling of the commission to do so and said that they may have to do their own edit, not rely on language from regional planning, stating that, as a commission, they should agree on the language. He also questioned the basic premise of the paragraph asking, “Would it be beneficial for Cavendish to adopt the enhanced energy element to obtain ‘substantial deference’ in act 248 hearings?” He suggested that by gaining substantial deference, they would also inherit the 90% renewable energy goal by 2050 and perhaps not be helped by that in an Act 248 process.

He then went on to express concern for the overall impact of renewable energy as a whole, saying that the mining of the raw materials and metals needed for batteries and solar panels for renewable energy, such as cobalt, nickel, and copper, all are mined in other countries, often with little or no regulation, and may do major damage to the environment, simply transferring the burden outside the U.S. “Speaking for myself, looking from this from engineering standpoint, it doesn’t add up for me.”

When McBride was asked to provide edits to the language in the energy paragraph he refused, saying that it would be a waste of his time since believes the language is “obligatory,” but the board does not. He acknowledged that the current language appears in other documents and other places within the region and state.

Ting confirmed that they looked at the regional plan and adopted much of it for Cavendish, but went on to say that since it is the Planning Commission’s document, they had an obligation to word it in a way they all felt comfortable with.

Both Saydek and Tim Calabrese repeated the point that they should be adding an enhanced energy chapter to the town plan and that there was seemingly no penalty.

Ting suggested they research whether any other town has used substantial deference for an Act 248 permitting process and look at the outcome. He said that they could revisit the paragraph again next month, but would not commit to a deadline when pressed. “For me I’m not comfortable. If we’re put in a situation, we have to defend this.”

The next Cavendish Planning Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 1, at 6:30 p.m. via Zoom.

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