Massachusetts wind siting proposals draw praise from officials, ire from residents at Berkshires hearing
Several members of the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy convened at Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort in the town of Hancock to gather input on a slate of bills focused on reforming the way on-shore wind projects are sited.
State Senator Benjamin Downing, who represents all of Berkshire County and parts of Franklin and Hampden Counties, is co-chair of the committee along with Essex County Representative John Kennan, both of whom facilitated the hearing.
The siting of projects refers to the permitting and approvals of state and local regulators needed by developers to construct industrial wind turbines and associated infrastructure. First to testify was state Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard Sullivan, who spoke in strong support of the measures, citing the local economic benefits of wind energy production.
“Massachusetts spends about $22 billion a year in energy, and approximately 80 percent of that investment, or $18 billion, not only leaves the state, but leaves the country.”
“The legislation before you will give Massachusetts the necessary tools to reclaim a great deal of this economic opportunity by continuing to build on our clean energy economy.”
Sullivan’s remarks were backed up by environmental advocates, including Massachusetts Sierra Club chapter director James McCafferey, who said the utilization of wind energy would be vital to curbing the effects of global climate change.
“Wind is a locally abundant and clean energy source.”
While some praised the proposals, several residents from across the western half of the state spoke against the measures. Elizabeth Smola, a resident of the Hampden County town of Brimfield and a physician for over 30 years, said she was most concerned about the potential health impacts of exposure to sustained low frequency sound created by turbines.
“Multiple studies systematically record symptoms in about 15 to 20 percent of previously healthy individuals who live within a distance of less than 2 kilometers to industrial wind turbines.”
Residents also spoke as to what was characterized as the disenfranchisement of local officials in the siting process they said would be codified by the measures.
The legislation would require communities with identified wind resources to establish, “wind energy permitting boards.” Residents cited language in the bills they said would allow the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board, which licenses the construction of major energy infrastructure in the state to undermine those local bodies.
Private residents weren’t the only ones who voiced concerns on this issue. Tad Ames, president of the Berkshire Natural Resources Defense Council, said the organization opposed the bill in part because of language he said was contradictory to giving local officials their say in project approval.
“The local board appointed does have the ability to review a project and to issue either an approval of a permit or a denial. And as has been pointed out, the developer could then appeal a denial to superior court.”
“But the bill in a later section says that the developer can go to the Energy Facilities Siting Board with an application once a written decision has been filed by the local municipal authority. It doesn’t say once a written decision of approval has been filed. It’s an almost ridiculous error or intentional drafting decision.”
Ames also said he opposed the policy because it would replace siting regulations using new, yet to be defined standards, which could then potentially be waived by state regulators on a per-project basis.
During Ames’ testimony Downing said he had filed an amendment to the bill striking potential waivers when it was under debate last year which failed passage, but gave no indication whether he would file a similar amendment this year.
Legislators will meet for the second and last scheduled hearing on the proposals September 26 at Cape Cod Community College. That hearing is expected to focus on new proposals regarding off-shore wind development.
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