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Wind bill hearing set for Wed. in Hancock

The state Legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecom, Utilities and Energy will convene a public hearing in Hancock on Wednesday to seek input regarding a wind turbine bill partly inspired by struggles developers faced in the Berkshires.

The Wind Siting Reform Act is similar in many ways to a bill that nearly made it to the governor’s desk during the last legislative session. That bill was passed by both the state Senate and House, but did not gain final approval before time ran out on the 2010 session.

The stated goal of the bill is to reduce the time and expense involved in the process of local and state permitting for commercial wind turbine developments. Impetus for the bill was, in part, the seven-year struggle developers experienced in securing permission to build the Hoosac Wind project, a 20-turbine, 30-megawatt project on ridgelines in the towns of Florida and Monroe.

Public hearings of this sort are normally conducted at the state house, according to state Sen. Ben Downing, chairman of the joint committee. But because the areas most likely to be impacted by this legislation – Berkshire County and Cape Cod – are home to those who would have the most to say on the topic, there will be two hearings, one in each locale.

The first hearing will be at 10 a.m. on Wednesday at J.J.’s Lodge at Jiminy Peak in Hancock, in close proximity to both the wind turbine near the summit of Jiminy Peak and a recently
completed 10-turbine wind farm, Berkshire Wind, atop Brody Mountain. The second hearing will be in Cape Cod on Sept. 26.

Downing expects to see testimony from developers, property owners, utility companies, advocacy organizations and opponents to wind power.

“Each and every one will have an opportunity to say their piece and air their concerns,” he said. “Afterwards, we will determine if they are valid, if they can be addressed, and use that to make some good public policy.”

Downing said it is difficult to predict whether this bill will pass, even though the last bill came so close.

“This bill is a new issue to a lot of newly elected members of the Legislature,” he said.

Nathaniel Karns, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, believes the bill has plenty of shortcomings. He was also mystified as to why the state still hasn’t delineated development standards for wind turbine installations.

“The state has been dorking around with this for so long, we could have had established standards by now,” Karns said.

As it is, the bill requires the wind advisory group to deliver development standards after a six-month period, he noted.

“What we now have is a stunning lack of trust in the state on this whole issue because of the way the state has approached it,” Karns said.

Downing said it is possible that the bill would move out of committee this fall, and be voted on in both branches of the Legislature by early next year.