I support wind energy projects that are appropriately planned, with community input and local boards and commissions having the ultimate authority for their approval.
It is important for me to say that in the very beginning of this writing because proponents of the Wind Siting Act in Massachusetts will often attempt to paint anyone objecting to this legislation as “anti wind energy” and that is simply not the case for me. Both the Jiminy Peak and Brodie Mountain projects are within my legislative district and in fact, I supported a public grant for the Jiminy Peak project.
Senator Michael Knapik’s stand on blocking the legislation during informal sessions of the Massachusetts Senate is applauded by me and many of my colleagues. We did our best to stop this bill in the House of Representatives, but despite our objections to it, the bill was passed and sent to the Senate. The vast number House members who supported this bill were from the Boston area or regions of the state where wind energy projects are unlikely to ever happen.
The bill was filed by Governor Patrick at the beginning of this legislative session and when I first heard of the bill and the well meaning intentions behind it, I was, like most people, favorable to the concept of a law that would help expedite wind projects. I mean, who wouldn’t be? After the energy price spikes of just a few years ago and the obvious implications to our environment by the continued burning of fossil fuels, moving to a clean and renewable energy source is a no-brainer.
Then I actually read the troubled bill and discovered that it essentially removed local decision making from the process and planning of these projects. It empowers a single state agency that permits projects and can over rule local decisions or special conditions on wind projects. The earliest version of the bill included a condition to allow these projects on state park and conservation lands. That provision was removed, but legislative supporters have already publicly vowed to file legislation in another session to possibly bring this and other removed provisions back. Scary stuff.
The Massachusetts Municipal Association and planning agencies like the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission are opposed to the bill because of the loss of local control. The expedited process which would be set up for the wind energy industry does not exist for any other energy sector in Massachusetts.
It is common practice for the legislature to do two things for a bill which has tremendous state-wide impacts. Typically the committee or committees charged with hearing the bill will take the show on the road and actually have hearings across the state to gauge support or problems with the legislation.
This never happened. It is also common practice to have bills go before more than one legislative committee to have those committees review the bills from their perspective too. For example, this bill has implications for both Municipal and Environmental law but neither of those committees heard the bill. Despite the fact that the bill would create new costs for state government, there was not a single hearing held on it by either Senate or House Ways and Means. This bill had one hearing before one committee, Energy, over eighteen months ago.
This legislation would impact two specific regions in Massachusetts with the most wind; Cape Cod and most of the ridge tops in the western end of the state. These two regions are coincidentally two of the poorest and are made up of towns unable to staff full time planning and engineering departments. The “expedited” process, giving these towns only 120 days to approve or deny an extremely complicated wind energy proposal is a joke and an obvious bonus to the industry pushing the legislation. If a town is unable to approve or deny a project within 120 days, the project would be automatically approved at the local level and forwarded to the single state agency for final approval.
Proponents, in their zeal to push this legislation through will commonly use the sole example of the six years stalled Hoosac Wind, as the reason for it. But they ignore the fact that dozens of projects, including many in the Berkshires have been approved and built without lawsuits or local objections. When I reviewed information from the implications of wind projects in states that have an expedited process, my conclusion was that a slower, not faster process for these projects is in the public’s best interest.
Another rallying cry I have heard by proponents throughout the debate on the bill is that “it is easier to build a coal fired plant in Massachusetts than a wind farm”. If that is truly the case, and I for one don’t believe it is, then we should be using our time in the legislature to make it harder to build the coal plant; not easier for wind energy corporations to exploit the limitations of our small towns and trampling local control.
I remain opposed to this legislation. It sets a terrible precedent for how we allow our communities to make determinations about energy projects and will have consequences that we in the western most region of the state and in some of the poorest communities in the state will have to deal with for decades.