As the Warren Planning Commission works on updating the Town Plan, over a dozen residents came out to its meeting on Monday, March 9, to weigh in on the most recent revisions to Chapter 5: Power for the People and how it handles the controversial subject of wind energy.

Currently, the chapter states: "As a community, and as a municipality, the town of Warren has always encouraged the use of renewable energy generation; and we see wind energy as an important part of the Town's efforts to meet the energy needs of the Town. In alignment with the State Comprehensive Energy Plan we hope to see 25 percent of our total electrical needs (currently about 25 Mw) met by Warren based renewable generation by the year 2025. Electricity generated by wind should be able to provide 20 percent of that goal or 5 percent of total electrical needs statewide."

According to the plan, "The Town of Warren should continue to facilitate development of Warren-based wind projects in order to achieve these renewable energy goals by means of community distributed and small‐scale wind projects, particularly ones that can take advantage of net‐metering."

Lastly, the plan states that "The Town of Warren does not see large‐scale or utility‐scale wind generation as an appropriate fit for our town due to a variety of issues including a lack of adequate transmission facilities," but at the planning commission meeting, several residents questioned the lack of specificity in this wording.

"My concern is that the language in the plan is too vague," Sugarbush Resort president Win Smith said on Monday. "I would hate to see industrial wind on our ridgelines in The Valley."

While several other residents pushed for more detail in the plan when it comes to stating the town's position on large-scale and utility-scale wind energy, planning commission vice chair Mike Ketchel said that, in revising the chapter, "The advice that we got from the state was that that wouldn't help us in environmental court."

Currently, all applications to construct wind turbines in the state fall under jurisdiction of the Vermont Public Service Board (PSB) which can issue a Certificate of Public Good for a project after considering factors such as aesthetics and economic benefit. The PSB also takes into account local energy policies, as defined in Town Plans, but does not necessarily have to abide by them.

In Waitsfield, the Town Plan prohibits the construction of structures — including wind turbines and telecommunication towers — above a certain level, but according to the advice the Warren Planning Commission got from the state, the PSB "would look at that and say they are not making any provision for these towers in their town at all and so we're going to make some changes and go ahead and allow it," Ketchel said. Instead, the state "would prefer to see some community guidelines as to what's acceptable and what's not acceptable," he said, which is what the planning commission is trying to establish.

"How do we look to the future without knowing how technology is going to change?" Warren Energy Committee co-chair Dotty Kyle asked, explaining that the methods for constructing wind turbines could evolve so that they are more suitable for The Valley. In revising Chapter 5, "Let's write a plan that doesn't close the door on something we may need five years down the road," Kyle said.

To clarify, "We're still encouraging alternative energy of all forms, including wind, absolutely," Ketchel said. Although, he explained, there are very few sites in Warren that would actually work for industrial-scale generation. As for restrictions on the height and setback of residential wind turbines, that information will be defined per the town's zoning ordinances.

Another factor that could be included in the town's zoning ordinances for wind turbines is their effect on Warren-Sugarbush Airport, a flying facility that is unique to Warren.

The airport consists predominantly of glider planes that rely on thermal energy as well as wind in order to stay up in the air. The engineless planes harness that energy by staying close to the ridgeline and because of that the presence of any wind turbine "would be an enormous safety hazard for us," Bob Messner said, speaking as a pilot and for Warren-Sugarbush Airport. The flying facility is an important tourist attraction in The Valley and "Anything restricting our ability to use that ridge and stay close to it would be detrimental to what we're trying to accomplish," Messner said.

Moving forward, the planning commission agreed to sit down with Messner to discuss how Warren-Sugarbush Airport's specific needs could be incorporated into wind turbine zoning regulations. Once it's completed, Chapter 5 of the Town Plan, "Power to the People," will go to the Warren Select Board, who will hold another public hearing on the document before adopting the revisions.