November 18, 2007

Energy bill's turbine amendment stirs storm

Environmentalists and coastal lawmakers are vowing to fight a surprise provision in an energy bill that they say would open up virtually the entire Massachusetts coast to unlimited wind turbine development.

The amendment was tucked into a sweeping energy bill that was approved by the Massachusetts House of Representatives with little debate late Thursday.

The amendment would allow renewable energy projects like wind power and hydroelectricity in the state’s five ocean sanctuaries, which are now protected from development by state law. Those areas, up to 3 miles from shore, include Cape Cod Bay, Buzzards Bay, the state waters around the southern Cape and islands and the coast north of Boston.

The change, if adopted by the Senate next year, would remove a major hurdle to Boston developer Jay Cashman’s controversial plan to build up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. The bay is an ocean sanctuary, where the state only allows development when it is deemed a “public necessity.”

“It’s outrageous,” said Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable. —¦It blows up a good part of the Marine Sanctuaries Act, and it was done at the eleventh hour. It didn’t go through a committee process. It was tacked onto an energy bill. I’m going to oppose it on the Senate side, and we will see how this unfolds. It’s disappointing.”

Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, could block it in her chamber.

“The Senate president has heard from some of her constituents who are fishermen, and they are greatly upset by this recent development in the proposed energy legislation,” said her spokesman, David Falcone. “The Senate will take up the energy bill in January and do some things differently.”

Sen. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, who supports wind power, said he will review it carefully. He has concerns that Cashman’s proposal was offered too quickly, with little detail.

“We will listen to the environmental groups, we will vet the amendment, and we will either work together to kill it, depending on what’s wrong with it, or we will fix it during the process,” Montigny said.

He said he is concerned about any local and state review power being taken away from Buzzards Bay.

“If, as the environmentalists say, this would diminish that process, then I am against it,” Montigny said.

The amendment was filed by Rep. Brian Dempsey, D-Haverhill, House chairman of the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee. It had the support of House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi.

David Guarino, a spokesman for DiMasi, said it resolves conflicting wording in the ocean sanctuaries act over what kind of development is allowed. He said the current law allows traditional electric generation development in the sanctuaries, without specifying that clean energy is allowed.

Environmentalists disagree, saying no development is allowed in the sanctuaries except utility lines. The Conservation Law Foundation and Mass Audubon are opposing the change.

Guarino said renewable energy projects in the sanctuaries would still be subject to stringent local and state reviews.

“All we are doing is adding the siting of clean, renewable facilities in locations that already allow traditional electric generating facilities,” he said. —¦It’s disingenuous for wind facilities to only be in certain parts of the state and not encourage them in other parts of the state, since Massachusetts is the Saudi Arabia of wind, and we need to harness it.”

Ian Bowles, Gov. Deval Patrick’s secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, could not be reached for comment. However, he told The Boston Globe it appears to be “a positive step” that would protect both the environment and fishing.

But environmental groups said it directly conflicts with O’Leary’s proposal for a comprehensive ocean management plan to decide where uses such as wind power should go. O’Leary’s proposed oceans act also calls for heavy involvement from local governments and regional planning agencies. Bowles has endorsed the oceans bill.

O’Leary’s oceans bill has been approved in the Senate, and it is awaiting a vote in the House.

The state has approved five ocean sanctuaries since the 1970s, covering almost all of the coast, except an area around Boston Harbor. The waters from Provincetown to Chatham would not be open to wind development under the amendment because they have special protections as part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Typically, only uses such as gas lines and transmission cables have been allowed in the ocean sanctuaries.

“This is the principal legal hurdle to a project like Cashman’s in Buzzards Bay,” said Mark Rasmussen, executive director of the Coalition for Buzzards Bay, which has serious concerns about the impact of Cashman’s proposed wind farm.

Rasmussen said O’Leary’s ocean management plan “was the thoughtful way of doing this.”

“By removing the ocean sanctuary protection, that is not the right way to be doing this. That’s backward. What we need is a good public process that decides where these wind energy facilities are appropriate.”

Susan Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, said the House’s move “appears to be a dangerous amendment and one that would set back 30 years of protection of our coastal waters.”

The alliance has been fighting Cape Wind’s proposal for 130 wind turbines in Nantucket Sound. That project is under federal review and would not be affected by the proposed change.

Rep. Eric Turkington, D-Falmouth, said the amendment was bundled with dozens of other amendments that were approved unanimously Thursday night with little debate. The votes were taken as voice votes, with no roll call.

Had the amendment been broken out and debated separately, Turkington said, he believes it would have met with wide opposition from coastal lawmakers.

“I think it kind of slid in without much exposure toward the end of the process,” he said. “It’s clearly something that all the coastal communities, and particularly the Cape and islands, are going to have problems with.”

By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer

18 November 2007

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