- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - A panel created by the Vermont Legislature to study the growth of solar power in Vermont and plan for its use sat down for its first meeting Tuesday and heard from both supporters and critics.

The Solar Siting Task Force was charged with reviewing the design, location and regulation of solar electric generation facilities and is to report back to lawmakers in January with recommendations.

“You know you don’t have an easy task ahead of you,” said state Rep. Tony Klein, D-East Montpelier, who helped develop the state’s new renewable energy law, which passed overwhelmingly in both chambers. “It is going to require a whole lot of renewable generation to be developed and sited in the state of Vermont.”

The new law, which established the 10-member panel, set a requirement that 55 percent of the power sold by Vermont energy companies come from renewable sources by 2017 and 75 percent by 2032. The state has a broader goal of getting 90 percent of its energy from renewable sources by 2050.

The panel heard from opponents of large-scale electricity generation projects, some of whom opposed wind projects now producing power. Many said state officials ignored their concerns before the projects were built.

“It seems like we’ve done all this before,” said Keith Ballek of Sheffield, which is home to one of Vermont’s industrial wind projects.

Kathleen Nelson of Island Pond said the Northeast Kingdom has already done its part with renewable energy by hosting a power line that carries Canadian power to southern New England.

“Our business in the Northeast Kingdom is tourism,” Nelson said, asking lawmakers how many tourist brochures feature wind turbines or solar arrays on them.

“As far as siting goes, the issue up in the Northeast Kingdom is that tourism is our business, protection of the land is our responsibility. We have done our part,” she said.

The task force is made up of state and utility officials, a landscape professional and a member of the general public. It is to address concerns raised by some municipalities and others about the fast growth of solar power projects around Vermont.

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