September 28, 2010

Wind subsidy tucked inside spending bill

By Bruce Mohl, CommonWealth Magazine, 28 September 2010

A special interest wind power subsidy is tucked inside a spending bill that is the focus of a power struggle between Democrats and Republicans on Beacon Hill.

Gov. Deval Patrick and Beacon Hill leaders are pressing for quick passage of a bill authorizing the state to spend more than $400 million in federal stimulus money, which they say is needed to avert the closing of two prisons, the layoffs of state troopers, and the closing of group homes for the developmentally disabled.

The officials are trying to pass the bill during the Legislature’s informal sessions, where the objection of just one member can block action. Rep. Karyn Polito, a Shrewsbury Republican running for state treasurer, blocked action on the bill on Monday and forced the House into recess today. She has said she wants more time to study the bill.

Patrick said the bill should be approved quickly and, if necessary, the Legislature should come back in to formal sessions to pass it. House Speaker Robert DeLeo told The Boston Globe, “There is no fluff in here folks. This is all matters that have to be addressed and have to be addressed now.” Senate President Therese Murray scoffed at suggestions there was anything unusual about passing a major spending bill in an informal session.

Most of the bill is devoted to funneling the federal funds to badly depleted state programs, but there is also a narrow provision taken from much broader wind siting legislation that is similarly stalled on Beacon Hill.

The provision would expand a ratepayer subsidy for those who produce renewable energy and sell it to a local utility. It would also extend that lucrative subsidy to a private wind power project in Kingston, which is represented in the Legislature by Senate President Murray and Rep. Thomas Calter.

Kingston is planning to erect a two-megawatt wind turbine and solar panels at a town-owned landfill. Mary O’Donnell, who owns a property adjacent to the landfill, has proposed building four, two-megawatt turbines on her land. Both projects are fully permitted, but O’Donnell needs a change in state law to make her project work financially. It’s that change in state law which has been included in the rush-rush spending bill. (For details, click here.)

Wayne Weikel, chief of staff of the House Committee on Ways and Means, which drafted the spending bill, defended the inclusion of the provision.

“While the Kingston project may be the first to take advantage of this change, communities all across the Commonwealth will be better positioned to benefit from locally produced renewable energy as a result of this bill,” he said. “We did not want to see these provisions held hostage to the more contentious negotiations over the larger wind siting issue.”

Now it appears those provisions may be held hostage to contentious negotiations over the bill authorizing the spending of federal stimulus funds.

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