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PSB member would bow out of wind ruling

June 30, 2012

 PSB member would bow out of wind ruling

By Lucia Suarez

STAFF WRITER | June 30,2012

A member of Vermont’s utility regulatory board said he would remove himself from proceedings if the commercial wind project proposed for Rutland County is filed before the state.

John Burke of the Public Service Board said he would recuse himself if the wind project on the Grandpa’s Knob ridgeline proposed by developer Reunion Power goes before the board. He cited conflicts of interest and ethics.

“I would recuse myself,” he said in an interview after an informational panel on the PSB process Thursday evening in Rutland. “For 40 years, for 30 years, for 35 years, I have hunted that ridge.”

Burke is a lawyer from Castleton whose family has property on the ridgeline. He is currently the town’s moderator and previously served as a town auditor, a member of the Recreation Committee and as town agent.

He said Thursday it would not be right for him to be part of the proceedings. “I own a part of that ridge,” Burke said.

Reunion Power has proposed a 20-turbine wind farm on the ridgeline spanning the towns of Castleton, Hubbardton, West Rutland and Pittsford. The $100 million project has been opposed by officials in all four towns, but that does not stop the developer from seeking approval from the PSB.

“They have every right do so,” Burke said.

Reunion Power has not filed any application for a Certificate of Public Good with the PSB.

The PSB is a quasi-judicial board that supervises the rates, quality of service and overall financial management of Vermont’s public utilities: power, cable television, electric, gas, telecommunications, water and large wastewater companies.

A PSB board member removing himself from proceedings is not common, but it has happened before.

In 2006, PSB Chairman James Volz recused himself from participating in the case for the proposed East Haven Wind Farm. He had served as director of public advocacy for the Department of Public Service when the project’s developer originally filed for a Certificate of Public Good.

At the time, Volz said although he was unaware of any specific basis for questioning his impartiality, he nonetheless decided not to sit on the case. He also recused himself from the hearings on Entergy Nuclear’s plans to store high-level radioactive waste in a new facility on the grounds of Vermont Yankee in 2005.

“There have been decisions where there have just been two of us to participate,” said Burke during Thursday’s panel on the PSB process. “When a board member has to recuse himself, it proceeds forward with two members. … We managed to find a way without having to ask the million-dollar question (if they don’t agree).”

If Burke does recuse himself from the proceedings, the decision will rest on Volz and fellow PSB board member David Coen.

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