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Plan first, then build 

As the Cape Wind plan to put 130 huge towers into the unregulated waters of Nantucket Sound made clear, our use of federal and state ocean waters has been helter-skelter. This lesson prompted Congress to require management plans for federal waters, and the state Legislature is on the threshold of similar action.

With leadership from Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, the Senate has three times approved a management bill for the state waters out to the three-mile limit. Last week, the House passed a bill on the same subject.

But there’s a basic difference in the two bills over the siting of renewable energy projects such as wind farms, particularly in the state-designated sanctuaries, which encompass most state waters except in Boston Harbor and off the Cape Cod National Seashore. The Senate bill would require the development of a management plan first – a plan that would designate areas suitable for various uses, including wind and wave energy projects, even in the sanctuaries.

The House bill puts renewable energy first – it would give a presumptive right to establish such projects anywhere, sanctuary or no, subject only to state and local permitting.

It’s not a small difference. Permitting is a technical process, focused on details of construction and such matters. Planning calls for a broad scale of judgment. Imagine a town with a building permit system but no zoning; the result would be a jumble of conflicting uses.

House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi tried to slip a similar provision into an energy bill last fall in the dark of night, as it were, but it encountered Senate resistance then and, fortunately, it will again.

It is significant that environmental organizations such as Massachusetts Audubon and the Conservation Law Foundation, always enthusiastic about renewable energy, favor the Senate emphasis on planning first – although the CLF now needs to explain why it hurried to embrace the Cape Wind project before a federal management plan for the waters of Nantucket Sound could be developed.

Much is made of the fact that the House bill would ease the way for Boston developer Jay Cashman, a DiMasi friend, to drop 120 massive towers into the narrow confines of Buzzards Bay. However that may be, the consequence is to tear a big hole in the purpose of the legislation, which is to establish priorities and standards for good stewardship of waters held in public trust, with consideration for biodiversity, ecosystem health, public access, economic and recreational uses and other laudable criteria.

But what good is it to develop a plan and then say, “Notwithstanding this fine plan, we’ll allow wind farms anywhere somebody wants to put them?”

State Rep. Cleon Turner, D-Dennis, voted against the House bill but all other Cape representatives voted for it, apparently because, as O’Leary observed, “a flawed bill is better than nothing.” Now it’s up to a joint House/Senate conference committee, on which O’Leary will sit, to resolve the differences. It must succeed, and it must put planning first.

February 24, 2008


This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

The copyright of this article resides with the author or publisher indicated. As part of its noncommercial educational effort to present the environmental, social, scientific, and economic issues of large-scale wind power development to a global audience seeking such information, National Wind Watch endeavors to observe “fair use” as provided for in section 107 of U.S. Copyright Law and similar “fair dealing” provisions of the copyright laws of other nations. Send requests to excerpt, general inquiries, and comments via e-mail.

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