State looks to fast-track wind power projects; Hilltown officials worry locals will lose power in new siting process
As the state moves forward with proposed legislation for siting wind turbines, planning board officials in some hilltowns want a public hearing in western Massachusetts, where the mountains, open space and vast areas of state-owned land could be prime locations for commercial windmills.
Last month, the Rowe, Heath and Hawley planning boards all sent letters to legislative co-chairs of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications expressing concerns that the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act would ’significantly restrict Massachusetts communities’ home rule authority by consolidating and expediting permitting’ of large wind farms.
They have also asked for public hearings on the proposal to take place west of the Connecticut River.
The siting reform bill would create a commission to set statewide siting standards for wind turbines and to streamline the permitting process, because state and local permit appeals can ‘take years to resolve, even when they lack merit,’ according to the state Energy and Environmental Affairs Web site.
That department points to the Hoosac Wind project in Monroe and Florida, a 30-megawatt wind farm that has been in the permit process since 2001, and Berkshire Wind project, now under construction on Brodie Mountain after a 10-year process, as examples of projects that have been delayed by permitting issues.
The Hoosac Wind project is to consist of 20 wind turbines, each rated at 1.5 megawatts, according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The Berkshire Wind project includes 10 340-foot tall, 1.5-megawatt wind turbines. The wind farm is designed to generate enough power for 5,000 households.
The Siting Reform bill would:
# mandate clear and predictable siting standards for wind facilities.
# provide ‘one-stop’ permitting at the local level, for wind projects over 2 megawatts, with any appeal to go before the siting board – not court. Also, ‘the siting board would issue a one-stop permit for all state permits that are needed,’ according to the state.
# create procedures to decrease the amount of permitting time from the current eight to 10 years to nine to 18 months.
‘Most people are unaware of the legislation,’ said Rowe Planning Board Chairman David Roberson. ‘I would like to see it get more publicity here, because I don’t think people have any idea of what the state has in mind.’
He said the tall multiple turbines stretched across a ridge line constitute ‘an enormous industrial infrastructure.’
Roberson and Hawley Planning Board member Lloyd Crawford also serve on the Board of Directors of National Wind Watch, a nonprofit coalition for raising awareness of the shortcomings of industrial wind energy and its negative impacts on the environment.
Roberson said the Rowe Planning Board was concerned over three issues: that hearings are only planned in Boston; the state’s plans for its holdings, including state forests; and that the legislation ‘will diminish the ability of towns to determine whether they want to have these enormous turbines put up on their land.’
Crawford says the new law would disproportionately affect western Massachusetts, because offshore wind facilities are more expensive to build, and because most land in the eastern part of the state lacks the conditions for efficient wind-power. He also says most state land that is under consideration for industrial-scale wind projects are in western Massachusetts.
State Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, whose district includes these and other hilltowns, said he has discussed this legislative proposal both with constituents who are in favor of the legislation and with those who oppose it.
‘I, by no means, think it’s a perfect proposal,’ he said of the bill, ‘but expediting technology for clean energy isn’t necessarily a burden.’ He said it could be ‘a good opportunity’ for many area communities. ‘There are a lot of things we’re trying to balance here,’ he said. ‘It’s a delicate process, one we’re engaged in now.’
Downing said the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and local legislators will host a public discussion session June 24 at Berkshire Community College in Pittsfield at 6 p.m., to get public feedback on the potential for wind-power development on state-owned lands.
According to a recent state study, conditions on existing state lands could provide sufficient wind resources to develop an estimated 947 megawatts of wind power – nearly half of Gov. Deval Patrick’s stated goal to develop 2,000 MW of wind power by 2020.
State Commissioners Rick Sullivan and Philip Giudice will lead the sessions, which will include an overview of wind power and siting issues. It will also provide an opportunity for discussion for elected officials and members of the public.
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