The state Senate unanimously passed an energy bill tonight that was as newsworthy for what it left out as for what it contained.
The Senate dropped a controversial House provision that critics say would open ocean sanctuaries to unlimited renewable energy development, including a major windmill project in Buzzards Bay.
The Senate also rejected a House proposal to transfer the administration of $25 million in renewable energy funds from the quasi-public Massachusetts Technology Collaborative to a new agency in Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration. The Senate would keep the MTC independent, but it created an oversight panel to report back on its renewable energy programs.
During today’s debate, the Senate approved an amendment from Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, that would create an ocean management plan for such uses as wind turbines, tidal power, and liquefied natural gas terminals in state waters. The ocean management proposal, which has the backing of the Patrick administration, has now passed the Senate three times, but has not come up for a vote in the House.
Sen. O’Leary said the House’s ocean sanctuaries proposal ran counter to the ocean management plan.
“We are going to frankly let the House know what our position is on this whole issue, which is, we need a transparent, comprehensive process to deal with the issue of development,” Sen. O’Leary said on the Senate floor.
The oceans amendment was co-sponsored by Sens. Mark C.W. Montigny, D-New Bedford, and Marc R. Pacheco, D-Taunton.
“That sends a significant message to the speaker that it’s time to decide,” Jack Clarke, of Massachusetts Audubon Society, said of the passage of the ocean management bill. “We’re hopeful that the House will take it seriously.”
The Senate also approved an amendment from Sen. Joan M. Menard that would ban a new LNG facility within one mile of a school, hospital or nursing home. If adopted by the House, it would put another road block before a proposal to build an LNG terminal in Fall River.
The Senate did not agree with the House’s proposal for a $2,000 state income tax break on hybrid cars, saying the state could not afford it.
The differences in the House and Senate energy bills, which could put House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi and Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, at odds, are now expected to be negotiated in a conference committee.
Sen. Michael Morrissey, D-Quincy, the Senate chairman of the Joint Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said the Senate bill contained 80 percent to 90 percent of the House energy bill that Rep. DiMasi championed.
The legislation sets out financial incentives for energy conservation and the development of renewable energy, including biofuels. The Senate adopted Sen. O’Leary’s proposal to allow municipal governments to own renewable facilities like wind turbines.
“Day after day, we hear about the skyrocketing prices of gas and home heating oil and more news about the changes in our climate,” Sen. Murray said in a statement. “We cannot continue on this course. … We need to reform our energy policies, and I believe the Senate’s bill moves us in the right direction.”
Despite the differences, Rep. DiMasi was poised to work with the Senate on a final compromise.
“Based on the bill that reached the floor, we were encouraged,” said Rep. DiMasi’s spokesman, David Guarino. “It includes many aspects of the speaker’s bill, and we are delighted that they are taking up this topic so we can hopefully get something to the governor’s desk very soon.”
The House amendment that would explicitly allow renewable energy development in most state waters sparked a controversy late last year. Rep. DiMasi defended its passage, saying it cleared up conflicts in the current ocean sanctuaries law.
The House amendment would remove a major obstacle in Boston developer Jay Cashman’s proposal to build up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay. Rep. DiMasi has called Cashman a close friend, but denied the amendment was a favor for him.
Rep. DiMasi has set a Jan. 15 meeting with all coastal state representatives to discuss the House amendment and the ocean management legislation.
The meeting was requested a second time yesterday by eight legislators who questioned how the amendment was filed after a House deadline.
“We asked for a meeting over a month ago now for an explanation over how this was filed or passed outside of the normal procedures for amendments,” said Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth. “It was never made public and only tucked in there at the last second as a Ways and Means amendment, so we just want an explanation of it.
“This is more of a process issue. I think the merits can be debated, but the process by which this got into the House version is unacceptable.”
By David Kibbe
Standard-Times staff writer
9 January 2008
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