The state would open ocean sanctuaries to “appropriate scaled” renewable energy development under a Statehouse deal that could allow a controversial wind farm in Buzzards Bay.
A six-member conference committee of House and Senate lawmakers reached consensus on the bill this week. The compromise apparently scuttles House-passed legislation that critics say would have opened Buzzards Bay and other ocean sanctuaries to unlimited renewable energy development.
The compromise bill will be signed by legislative leaders and made public when it is filed with the Senate clerk next week. It would then go to the full Senate and House for floor votes.
“We felt it was really important to set up a transparent public process that will get the public interest ahead of the private interest,” said Sen. Robert O’Leary, D-Barnstable, who filed the oceans bill and served on the conference committee. “In the same breath, we recognize the need for renewables and offshore renewables.”
Under current law, development can only take place in the state’s ocean sanctuaries if it is deemed a “public necessity.” The five protected sanctuaries are on the North Shore, Cape Cod Bay, off the southern Cape and the islands, and Buzzards Bay.
The compromise bill would allow renewable energy projects, but they would be subject to an ocean management plan that a special commission would set by Dec. 31, 2009, according to sources familiar with the agreement.
Rules to be drawn up
The special commission would draft specific regulations for offshore renewable energy projects, including allowable distance from shore, scale and type of technology, community benefits and environmental impact.
Until a new ocean management plan is developed, the state’s current ocean sanctuary protections would remain in place.
Boston developer Jay Cashman is proposing to place up to 120 wind turbines in Buzzards Bay, a plan that has met opposition from both local officials and environmentalists. The impact of this week’s Statehouse deal on the Buzzards Bay wind farm will depend on whether the bill becomes law and the special commission creates new regulations.
House Speaker Salvatore DiMasi came under fire in November after House leaders slipped the broad opening of ocean sanctuaries to renewable energy development into an energy bill with little notice before the bill was voted on and passed in the House.
The House leadership’s plan would have removed a major obstacle for the Buzzards Bay project.
DiMasi, who is close friends with Cashman, denied the House proposal was a personal favor.
Rep. John F. Quinn, D-Dartmouth, a critic of the process that led to the House bill, fears the compromise reached this week could lead to less environmental protection in Buzzards Bay.
He said he had not seen the final language of the deal, which won’t be released until next week.
“I’m still not satisfied,” Quinn said, based on a description of the agreement.
“In my view, this law was changed, even if it is just moderately, for this one special project, without a hearing, without public input and stakeholder input prior to the change in the law.”
Cashman this week dropped a portion of his proposed wind farm off the Fairhaven shoreline, citing the population of endangered roseate terns and the area’s high boat traffic. His company, Patriot Renewables, is still proposing to build turbines off Dartmouth and Naushon Island.
“We have not yet seen the legislation, but to the extent that it moves wind power forward in Massachusetts, we are supportive,” Liz Isherwood, a spokeswoman for Patriot Renewables, said in a statement. “We look forward to reviewing the bill to see how it may affect our project and other offshore projects in Massachusetts.”
If the compromise bill becomes law, an ocean management plan would be written by an advisory commission and a scientific council. The advisory commission would include representatives from government, environmental groups, and commercial and sport fishing.
The state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, currently Ian Bowles, would have final approval over the ocean management plan after holding public hearings.
Cape Wind, a wind farm proposed in federal waters in Nantucket Sound, would be grandfathered under the legislation because it is far along in its permit process.
The oceans bill would not take power away from the state Division of Marine Fisheries or impose any new fishing regulations.
It also would clarify that the Cape Cod Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission have review authority over projects within three miles of their coastlines.
Murray supports bill
Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, supports the oceans bill compromise and said she spoke to DiMasi, D-Boston, about it dozens of times.
“This is important for every coastal community,” Murray said.
“We’ve got a really good management plan for coastal waters going forward.”
By David Kibbe
Times Boston Bureau
9 May 2008
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