CAPE COD – Barring a miracle, the governor will soon sign a bill that would substantially alter the way land-based wind turbines are approved locally – make that “locally.”
It’s the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act (Senate bill 2260).
Hailed by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs as the answer to our energy problems, and to approval delays that plague wind developers, the bill would streamline the permitting process for turbines generating more than 2 megawatts of power – these are the industrial-sized ones in excess of 400-feet tall. (For comparison, Brewster’s proposed turbines would generate 1.8 megawatts and stand 410-feet tall.)
Under Senate bill 2260, rather than appearing before multiple regulatory boards at the municipal level, wind developers would apply for a single permit from just one board comprised of representatives from local regulatory committees.
The one-stop permitting process would continue at the state level, with the Electrical Facilities Siting Board issuing one super permit to cover all required state permits.
Among the thorniest aspects of this bill is one that enables the Electrical Facilities Siting Board to determine the criteria under which wind developments must be approved. If a municipality rejects an application, the developer can take the case to court – that’s the same process that already exists. However, if a municipality approves a development based on the state’s criteria and a citizens group protests, that group can take its appeal only to the state Electrical Facilities Siting Board. Good luck with that.
The Energy and Environmental Affairs page of the www.mass.gov Web site literally gushes over this bill. It lists several supporting organizations, such as The Nature Conservancy, as well as businesses that appear to have a direct, financial interest in the bill.
One of them is First Wind, which describes itself as an “independent North American wind energy company focused exclusively on the development, ownership and operation of wind farms.” Then there’s the New England Clean Energy Council, which counts among its executive committee members John P. DeVillars, the senior vice president of TRC Companies. It was his firm that prepared the Final Environmental Impact Statement for Cape Wind.
It should be noted, too, that TRC does business with the state. It was retained less than two years ago by the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs to “conduct a study of turbine siting” across the commonwealth, according to the mass.gov Web site.
We’re not anti-wind. We’re not anti-industry. We believe that wind farms have a role to play on appropriate land parcels, but this bill would force municipalities to adhere to the state’s approval criteria and it would effectively silence opposition from property owners affected by a wind turbine installation.
We urge lawmakers in both parties to rethink the content of this bill, which is temporarily hung up in the Senate, before final approval sends it to the governor’s desk.
The Cape, with its near-perfect conditions for wind energy, stands to be very seriously affected by this bill’s passage.
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