House legislation that would open up Buzzards Bay and other ocean sanctuaries to large-scale, renewable energy projects is likely to face opposition in the Senate, based on reaction from Senate leaders.
The House passed an oceans bill Wednesday that would allow renewable energy development along most of the state’s coastline. Critics say it would also remove a major obstacle before Boston developer Jay Cashman’s proposal to put up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay.
Currently, renewable energy projects only can be put in ocean sanctuaries under special circumstances. The waters off the Cape Cod National Seashore would still be exempt from renewable energy projects.
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 uses like 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 opposed the House change in ocean sanctuaries. They say the state needs to commit to a doing a comprehensive plan for ocean uses before opening up the sanctuaries to development like wind and tidal energy.
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 Sen. Murray’s spokesman, David Falcone.
Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, who sponsored the oceans bill in the Senate, expects to serve 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,” Sen. 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.
Rep. Quinn also 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, and renewable energy projects would still be subject to federal, state and local review. He has denied it was a favor to Mr. Cashman, a close friend. House leadership was lining up votes Wednesday night, making it clear it was a priority for Speaker DiMasi.
Southeastern Massachusetts lawmakers were split on Rep. Quinn’s amendment.
Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, who voted against Rep. Quinn’s amendment, said critics had mischaracterized the bill. He said extensive approvals would still be needed for any renewable energy project. He also disputed that the bill was done for Mr. Cashman’s benefit.
“It’s a provision that just clarifies the law to allow renewable energy to be off the coast of the commonwealth,” said Rep. Cabral, the House chairman of the State Administration Committee. “Not for a particular project, but to allow renewable energy. It could be anywhere from Gloucester all the way down to the Cape.”
Rep. Cabral said any project would undergo “significant review, with significant opportunity for local comment and local citizens or any interested party to be involved in that process and make their issue and their perspective to be heard and registered and taken into consideration.”
Rep. Michael Rodrigues, D-Westport, said he voted against Rep. Quinn’s amendment because he supported renewable energy. Rep. Rodrigues said he backed Cape Wind, and he would support the Buzzards Bay wind farm if it won permitting approval from the state.
“You have to build wind turbines where the wind is,” he said. “The wind is along the coast. However, the proponents and the developers of the projects have to go through a thorough permitting process, and they will be required to do that.”
By David Kibbe
16 February 2008
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