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Activists hit DiMasi energy bill

Massachusetts environmentalists expressed alarm yesterday over legislation they said could lead to construction of Cape Wind-sized wind farms up and down the state’s coastline.

As the House late Thursday night unanimously adopted a wide-ranging energy bill backed by Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi, one of dozens of amendments voted through would make renewable energy projects such as wind turbines and hydroelectric turbines “a permitted use” in almost all areas now protected by the state Ocean Sanctuaries Act, except the Provincetown-Chatham coast of outer Cape Cod.

Groups including the Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Conservation Law Foundation said they fear that the amendment, if adopted by the Senate and signed by Governor Deval Patrick, would open the door to almost unlimited construction of wind turbines and other energy equipment in Cape Cod Bay and in waters within 3 miles of the North Shore, the South Coast, Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket, and the south side of Cape Cod.

One project that would face less stringent environmental review if the amendment becomes law is Boston construction mogul Jay Cashman’s plan for a 120-turbine wind farm in Buzzards Bay off the coast of Marion and Wareham.

“We are very, very concerned about blasting open the Ocean Sanctuaries Act to allow large-scale renewable energy,” said Priscilla Brooks of the Conservation Law Foundation. While the foundation backs offshore wind, including the 130-turbine Cape Wind plan in Nantucket Sound, Brooks said, “we think it’s got to be done in the context of a comprehensive ocean management plan.”

Jack Clarke of Mass. Audubon said the group backs “small-scale renewable energy” offshore that won’t threaten birds and fish. “We have some very serious reservations about repealing” the current restrictions, he added.

DiMasi spokesman David Guarino said House lawyers concluded that existing state laws are unclear but seem to allow conventionally fueled electric facilities in areas protected by the Ocean Sanctuaries Act. The amendment adopted Thursday night, Guarino said, would only clarify the law to allow “green power” facilities in near-shore waters also.

Guarino added: “It is a little confusing and disingenuous to say you support wind projects in the Commonwealth but not support them in some areas of the Commonwealth.”

Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles , said he was still reviewing the amendment but tentatively concluded it was “a positive step.”

“Taken together with comprehensive ocean-management planning, this proposal will allow for the use of state waters for renewable energy in a manner that protects the environment and the interests of our fishing community, and also offers clean energy choices for the citizens of the Commonwealth,” Bowles said.

Under laws dating back to the 1970s, Massachusetts has created five ocean sanctuaries in state waters, which extend typically 3 miles offshore and across all of Cape Cod Bay from Plymouth to Provincetown.

The state sanctuaries cover all the coast except for a stretch from Boston Harbor to Duxbury. Within them, it is generally prohibited to build structures unless state environmental regulators agree that they are merited by “public necessity and convenience.”

The Senate isn’t expected to take up the DiMasi energy bill before January.

In September senators approved their own bill for updating environmental regulation in state-controlled waters, with some provisions to ease construction of offshore wind and tide-powered generation, but the House hasn’t acted on it.

By Peter J. Howe

The Boston Globe

17 November 2007