Governor Deval Patrick’s administration proposed several changes to state environmental-protection laws yesterday that could help speed construction of offshore wind-power farms, including the controversy-plagued Cape Wind project that Patrick strongly backs.
The Department of Environmental Protection formally unveiled several changes to the state’s Chapter 91 waterways protection laws, which could take effect as soon as April after a public comment period that ends Jan. 17.
One major change would be to declare cables conveying power from offshore renewable-energy projects – including wind farms and hydroelectric generating units – to be water-dependent. That designation would get those projects speedier, more favorable consideration by department regulators, who are required by Chapter 91 to apply heavier scrutiny to nonwater-dependent projects in protected waterfront and river areas.
“The governor has made it an environmental priority to increase renewable energy, and the most important piece of these changes would make the regulations consistent with the administration’s support for renewable energy, by allowing renewable energy from offshore to connect to the grid onshore,” said Ed Coletta, a department spokesman.
Besides the 130-turbine Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound, other proposals the changes could help include construction mogul Jay Cashman’s plan for a 120-turbine wind farm in Buzzards Bay off Dartmouth and Fairhaven, and the Hull Municipal Light Department’s proposed wind farm.
The announcement was made a month after Patrick’s administration supported House Speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi’s inclusion of a measure in the House’s green-energy bill. The measure exempts Cape Wind and the Cashman project from regulatory hurdles in the state’s Ocean Sanctuaries Act, which limits or bans development in most coastal waters.
Though former governor Mitt Romney relentlessly opposed Cape Wind, Patrick and his energy and environmental affairs secretary, Ian A. Bowles, have called the project crucial to meeting state goals for renewable energy and helping to market Massachusetts worldwide as being friendly to renewable energy companies.
Mark Rodgers, a Cape Wind Associates spokesman, said yesterday that his company had not yet seen the proposed changes but said they sounded like “a step in the right direction from our viewpoint.” The current designation of offshore wind farms as nonwater-dependent projects, Rodgers said, “doesn’t make it impossible, but it adds another layer, and it never struck us as a policy that makes sense.”
Rodgers said offshore wind farms are clearly water-dependent because it is their location in the open ocean – where winds are much steadier and stronger than on land – that makes them feasible for generating electricity.
Officials from the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which has been battling Cape Wind for six years, and the Conservation Law Foundation, an environmental group backing Cape Wind, declined to comment.
Last month, Cape Wind angered its foes by asking the state Energy Facilities Siting Board to use its unique authority to approve the project by preempting eight different state and local permits – including the DEP waterways permit. This move came after the Cape Cod Commission voted against approving transmission lines connecting Cape Wind to the regional power grid in Yarmouth.
Peter J. Howe
11 December 2007
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