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Romney plan backs wind power


By Christopher Marcisz, Berkshire Eagle Staff

A long-term energy plan proposed by Gov. Mitt Romney could make the Berkshires fertile ground for renewable energy projects such as wind power.

But with four significant wind-energy projects already working their way toward completion in the region, some concern has been raised that the initiative will balloon the number of turbines built here.

“He’s looking to the Berkshires to show he is for renewable energy and wind power, and we don’t have the political clout to put him in an awkward position,” said Eleanor Tillinghast, of the group Green Berkshires, which opposes wind turbines.

Others, however, see Romney’s plan – announced Aug. 11 – as an opportunity for Massachusetts to take the lead in embracing alternative-energy projects.

It calls for several steps to increase efficiency, such as flexible rates that encourage customers to cut their usage during peak energy times of the day, and tax incentives to purchase fuel-efficient vehicles. It also includes incentives for companies that install their own clean power supplies and decisions on proposals to expand the state’s natural gas supply.

But a major component of the plan is to increase the presence of renewable energy options such as hydropower, biofuels and wind power. Besides encouraging the completion of some projects in the works – making specific mention of the proposed Hoosac Wind project in Florida and Monroe – the plan also calls for expedited permit approvals for projects.

‘Nonconservation lands’

It would open up some state property for such efforts – a factor that has raised concerns because of the large amount of state-owned land in the Berkshires. The state could begin seeking proposals as early as this fall.

But Nancy Nylen, associate director of the Center for Ecological Technology, which supports wind power, said her conversations with state officials suggest that they are considering limited use of state-owned property.

“They’d be looking at nonconservation lands, like the kinds of lands the state owns that are around public facilities,” she said, including hospitals, prisons and public service facilities.

Nylen said it could be a positive step and put the state in the lead, provided the state kept in mind several essential elements. “Leading by example would include all the things we’d hope for: environmental standards, public input and fiscal responsibility.”

Four local projects in the works

Four significant wind energy projects are in the works in the Berkshires and could be up and running by the end of the year. Supporters say the wind turbines are an important part of lessening the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and their negative impacts on air quality and the environment. But opponents say that the towers are an aesthetic menace, dangerous to wildlife and their habitats, and more about corporate tax breaks than about protecting the environment.

Joseph Donovan, a spokesman for the state Executive Office of Economic Development, said the quicker process is needed to help commercial projects in general, which can suffer from what is now a “slow and unpredictable” process in Massachusetts.

“(The plan) has been created to take advantage of things in many cases that are already in place, so we can take action now,” he said.

One example Donovan cited is legislation that Romney signed earlier this month that streamlines the commercial permitting process. The law would allow communities to select certain sites for expedited permitting, in which the process would be completed within 180 days.

He said that the plan also intends – sometime this fall – to request proposals “for wind and biomass at state facilities and on state land. It’s too early to tell which sites could be categorized as the best sites.”

While the state continues to find ways to encourage more wind projects, four are in various stages in the Berkshires.

In Savoy, the developers of the proposed Minuteman Wind project, which would install five turbines, met with town officials Aug. 23 to discuss zoning issues. Under current bylaws, the project would need either a special permit or a change in the law that could be put before voters at a special town meeting this fall. The developers plan to hold an informational update meeting on the project on Sept. 14 at 7 p.m. at the town fire station.

Meanwhile, other wind projects in the area are pushing to completion, including the 10-turbine Berkshire Wind project on Hancock’s Brodie Mountain. Project spokesman William Sheperdson said foundation work has begun on three of the sites, and the turbines could go up late this year or early next. Much of the work has been on the access road.

“We’re definitely making progress,” he said. “The road is crucial to this project.”

The 20-turbine Hoosac Wind project, proposed for ridge lines in Florida and Monroe, is currently awaiting a recommendation on a challenge to its permitting from the Division of Administrative Law Appeals. The magistrate’s recommendation would go to the Department of Environmental Protection, which can accept or reject any part of the decision.

At Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort, work has continued on the wiring and infrastructure necessary for the single turbine Jiminy plans to put up to help meet its electricity needs. The resort anticipates the turbine will go up next July.

“Everything is on track,” Jiminy spokeswoman Katie Tworek said.

Material from the North Adams Transcript was used in this article.