If Ian Bowles was not the most successful member of Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration, he certainly was the most prolific.
Bowles, who grew up in Woods Hole, boasts an impressive list of accomplishments as he steps down from the post of Secretary of Energy and Environment, so it’s no surprise when he sums up the reason for his departure this way: “Under Governor Patrick’s strong leadership, I really accomplished all the things that I’ve set out to accomplish,” he told the Times.
Without question, Bowles, the first state official to be responsible for both energy and environmental policy, deserves credit for much of his legislative agenda. From land preservation – his administration saved more than 72,000 acres of wildlife habitat, working farms and park land – to energy conservation – a state energy-efficiency program is expected to save billions – much of Bowles’ work will leave a positive imprint on Massachusetts.
But not all the grades are in. Bowles may believe his work is done, but the effects of several initiatives are far from clear, so it would be premature to praise the outgoing secretary for his efforts.
The most obvious example, of course, is Cape Wind. Gov. Patrick made the project a symbol of his energy policy, and Bowles was an eager champion for the cause. From the beginning, Bowles was at the tip of the spear as the Patrick administration prodded the ill-conceived wind farm through the remaining regulatory hurdles.
In fact, the administration has aggressively pushed for offshore and land-based wind turbines across the state. Bowles was instrumental in getting passed two major initiatives that are lauded by some and criticized by others: the Massachusetts Oceans Act, which promotes offshore wind development in state waters, and the Green Communities Act, which sets aggressive renewable-energy targets for the Bay State’s public utilities.
Both initiatives are laudable in the sense that they spark a promising economy and a clean-energy industry, but in the zeal to push the renewable agenda, local control is being lost and local voices are being drowned out.
Certainly that was the case when the Cape Cod Commission locked horns with the Energy Facilities Siting Board. The county agency denied a permit to Cape Wind, but the state’s siting board, which falls under Bowles’ jurisdiction, approved it.
When the state’s highest court sided with Bowles’ board, the decision undercut the authority of the commission and any other local agency that might seek to oppose a project supported by the state. It is a dangerous precedent that is cloaked only by the veil of green energy.
And now there are concerns about land-based turbines. This spring, Bowles stood underneath Falmouth’s new 1.65-megawatt turbine spinning at the wastewater treatment site and pictured similar sites throughout Massachusetts.
“From here in Falmouth – where four turbines totaling nearly eight megawatts will be installed by 2012 – to the Country Garden in Hyannis and the Massachusetts Military Reservation in Bourne, the Cape is showing outstanding leadership as we pursue Gov. Patrick’s goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020,” Bowles stated. “By the end of this year, Massachusetts will have 10 times as much wind power installed as when the governor took office – and the Cape and Islands are a big reason why.”
Since that day, neighbors in Falmouth have complained about the noise and have fought to prevent a second turbine from being constructed. Other Cape towns have delayed or declined the building of turbines until more is learned about the impacts.
As we step forward into a new era of renewable energy and a green economy, the problems and pitfalls are just beginning to surface. And as construction begins, the concerns are no longer theoretical.
Gov. Patrick – and Bowles – are not wrong to be heading in this direction, but they have only taken the first few steps. Setting policy is only half the battle; putting it into practice and adjusting to the realities as they emerge are the other half.
We wish Bowles had stuck around long enough to see the reality, both good and bad, of his trailblazing.
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