A fight is brewing in the state Legislature over who will control a $25 million renewable energy fund that helps communities and homeowners install wind turbines, solar panels and other forms of clean electricity.
A provision in House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi’s energy bill would transfer the administration of the fund from the quasi-public Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to a new agency under the secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
The MTC, which has issued $250 million from the fund since the beginning of the decade, has much stronger support in the state Senate. Where Gov. Deval Patrick stands on control of the Renewable Energy Trust is unclear. His Energy and Environmental Affairs secretary, Ian Bowles, has been vague.
“It remains to be seen what the final outcome will be,” Mr. Bowles said in a statement released by his office regarding the upcoming debate on the legislation.
The full House will take up the bill on Thursday, and likely surface in the Senate next year.
Critics say the MTC has been too slow to get wind, solar, hydro-electric and other projects completed since the trust was created as part of the 1997 utility deregulation act.
MTC’s Community Wind Collaborative has tapped into the trust to invest $4 million in planning for wind projects in 40 towns, including eight towns on the Cape and Islands. But the MTC-administered money for wind studies and business plans has yet to result in permanent wind turbines generating electricity in any of those towns.
The MTC was able to help the Massachusetts Maritime Academy put up a 660-kilowatt turbine in just two years, but it did not require voter approval or the same regulatory process called for in municipalities.
Supporters of the collaborative say local opposition to wind turbines and a difficult review process is to blame for the lack of progress, not the MTC. And the money was frozen until a court challenge to the renewable energy surcharge on utility bills was defeated in 2002.
The surcharge costs each household $5 to $6 a year and raises $25 million annually for renewable energy projects statewide.
“The MTC has been wonderful to work with,” said Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, the chairman of the Consumer Protection and Professional Licensure Committee. “We are a little bit worried about how the administration of this money would be handled” under the proposed change.
Mr. Rodrigues said the MTC has done a “great job,” and the delays in energy projects were related to permitting and zoning issues. “I can’t blame them on any of that.”
The trust invested $800,000 in studies, technical work and legal bills on the Orleans wind turbine project, only to see it defeated by the town’s water commissioners after four years of work.
MTC’s Community Wind Collaborative was criticized for presenting Orleans with three different business plans in three years, as well as conflicting information. The MTC said it was a learning experience that will help other wind projects get completed, on the Cape and elsewhere.
“The Renewable Energy Trust has provided $250 million in grants and loans to support more than 1,300 clean energy projects across the state, including wind, solar, hydroelectric and biomass installations,” MTC spokesman Christopher Kealey said in a statement. “We have also funded clean energy companies that are creating new jobs, as well as green schools, green affordable housing and green community projects throughout the SouthCoast. Anyone who has followed the controversies around big clean energy projects knows that the major hurdle keeping them from getting built in Massachusetts is NIMBYism.”
In a statement released by his office, Mr. Bowles said the Renewable Energy Trust “has made significant contributions over the last decade. However, Governor Patrick has made clean energy development a top priority, and we are working closely with the Legislature to evaluate programs like the (trust) and maximize the amount of renewable power generation we build in Massachusetts.”
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
14 November 2007
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