BOSTON – A House bill that would open up Buzzards Bay and other ocean sanctuaries to large-scale renewable energy projects is likely to face serious opposition in the Senate, based on reaction from Senate leaders yesterday.
The House passed an oceans bill Wednesday that would allow renewable energy development along most of the state’s coastline, including sanctuaries. Critics say it also would remove a major obstacle to Boston developer Jay Cashman’s proposal for as many as 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay.
Currently, renewable energy projects only can be put in ocean sanctuaries under special circumstances.
The Senate version of the ocean management bill would allow for “small scale” renewable energy projects in ocean sanctuaries. Both bills call for the state to plan for such facilities as wind power and liquefied natural gas terminals in state waters.
The differences between the two bills are expected to be hammered out in a six-member, House-Senate conference committee this winter or spring.
The Massachusetts Audubon Society and the Conservation Law Foundation both oppose the House change in ocean sanctuaries. They say the state needs to commit to a comprehensive plan for ocean uses before opening up the sanctuaries to such development as wind and tidal energy projects.
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, left the same House provision out of an energy bill earlier this session.
“The Senate president agrees with the Conservation Law Foundation and the Massachusetts Audubon Society that we must have a management plan in place first,” said Murray’s spokesman, David Falcone.
Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, who sponsored the oceans bill in the Senate, expects to be on the conference committee that will work on the final bill. He said the Senate bill offered stronger protections on renewable energy development than the House version, but he was pleased that the legislation was closer to final passage.
The ocean management bill has passed the Senate three times, but it had never come up for a vote in the House before.
“While the House bill is flawed, we can’t pass this legislation without the House, and a flawed bill is better than nothing,” O’Leary said in a statement. “We can fix the problems in conference.”
Environmental groups say the House bill does not have firm timelines, and does not require projects to be consistent with ocean planning. The Senate version has both those elements.
Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, offered an amendment Wednesday that would have stripped the ocean sanctuaries change from the House bill. The amendment was defeated, 113 to 31.
Quinn had excoriated House leaders for slipping the ocean sanctuaries change in as a last-minute amendment to an energy bill last November.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi, who supports the provision, has said it resolves conflicts in the law. He argues renewable energy projects would still be subject to federal, state and local review. He has denied it was a favor to Cashman, a close friend.
Southeastern Massachusetts lawmakers were split on Quinn’s amendment. Several Cape legislators said they wanted to move ocean planning to the conference committee, rather than risk it dying in the House.
“I’d like to see some changes in the House language,” said Rep. Sarah Peake, D-Provincetown, who voted against Quinn’s amendment. “What’s important in the House bill is it makes a clear statement that renewable energy should be in state waters.”
Rep. Demetrius Atsalis, D-Hyannis, also voted against Quinn’s amendment. He said he wanted the bill moved forward so the conference committee could settle on a planning process. Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, was the only Democrat in the Cape delegation to vote in favor of Quinn’s amendment.
There was nothing in the House bill that guaranteed a planning and thorough permitting process, Turner said. “What it said was a wind farm in essence would be a permitted use,” he said. “It might have been a little better, I felt, if it set limits on the size of a wind farm out there.”
Turner also feared that the conference committee will never agree on an ocean bill.
“My guess in my limited experience in the House is it will never come out of the conference committee, because they will never come to terms on it,’ Turner said.
By David Kibbe
Times Boston Bureau
15 February 2008
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