"I believe it's a flawed bill and there's no way to change it," said Lilli-Ann Green, a board member with Windwise~Cape Cod and executive committee member with Wind Wise~Massachusetts, organizations formed to oppose wind-energy projects on the Cape and across the state. If the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act is passed it will not only take away local control it will set a dangerous precedent for other industries seeking expedited permitting, said Green, who lives in Wellfleet.
HYANNIS – For the third time in three years, state lawmakers are taking up a bill to streamline permitting for large, land-based wind turbines.
Opponents of wind-energy projects across the state claim the measure will reduce local control while proponents argue it is necessary because of the protracted reviews that wind energy proposals face.
The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act would consolidate the permitting process for turbines two megawatts or larger in a single, local board for municipalities in areas, such as Cape Cod, that the state designates as a “significant wind resource area.”
If a local siting board approves a project, appeals would go to the state Energy Facilities Siting Board.
If the state siting board affirms the local board’s approval, opponents could appeal to the state Supreme Judicial Court.
Developers could appeal a denial by the local board to superior or land court. The law would have no effect on offshore wind turbines.
The House approved the bill last year but the Senate failed to enact a final version before the end of the legislature’s formal session.
A Sept. 7 hearing on the bill sponsored by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy at Jiminy Peak in Hancock centered on the issue of local control, Massachusetts Secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said during a recent interview with the Cape Cod Times.
A second hearing on the bill is scheduled for Sept. 26 at Cape Cod Community College.
The Berkshires, Cape Cod and the islands are considered the areas in the state where winds are most favorable for energy production. In all those regions local opposition has fomented around concerns about the effects of wind turbines on property values, aesthetics and health.
Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration would consider amendments to the bill’s current language related to local control, Sullivan said.
“As secretary and somebody who comes out of municipal government, I hold dear the issue of local control,” said Sullivan, who was the former mayor of Westfield. “With that local control comes the responsibility to have the discussion and get to the table and take a vote.”
The state Department of Public Health and the Department of Environmental Protection have formed a seven-member panel to address health concerns raised by neighbors of wind turbines, most vocally Falmouth residents who live near turbines at the wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road.
While the panel’s work will be valuable in the creation of setbacks and other standards for wind energy projects, the Patrick administration does not believe at this point that there are major health affects from turbines, Sullivan said.
Despite increased localized opposition to the bill Sullivan said he expected it would pass.
Opponents hope otherwise.
“I believe it’s a flawed bill and there’s no way to change it,” said Lilli-Ann Green, a board member with Windwise~Cape Cod and executive committee member with Wind Wise~Massachusetts, organizations formed to oppose wind-energy projects on the Cape and across the state.
If the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act is passed it will not only take away local control it will set a dangerous precedent for other industries seeking expedited permitting, said Green, who lives in Wellfleet.
But state Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, the legislation’s sponsor, said, there is “one very simple reason” the bill is needed.
“It’s easier to basically permit energy that creates pollution than something that is a clean source of energy,” he said referring to the permitting process for coal or nuclear power versus wind.
There would be more local control for wind permits under the bill than the process for permitting coal power plants, he said.
Opponents say there are other problems.
The law would reduce opportunities for residents to participate in the permitting process and eliminate certain rights of appeal available to municipalities, said Eleanor Tillinghast, another board member of Wind Wise~Massachusetts from the Berkshires. She also thinks that because appeals of the state siting board’s decisions go directly to the Supreme Judicial Court, it would be more difficult to reverse a decision.
Although she is in agreement with state officials who want to reduce the harmful impacts of pollution on the environment Tillinghast said there are other ways to accomplish that goal.
Just because opponents of wind energy projects don’t think clear cutting for roads to install turbines is reasonable for the small amount of energy the machines deliver doesn’t mean they believe mountaintop removal in West Virginia to mine coal is a good idea, she said.
Some lawmakers from the Cape and the islands share similar concerns.
Failure to pass the bill last year gave opponents time to organize and legislators time to understand the issue, state Rep. Timothy Madden, D-Nantucket said.
“Nothing has changed for me as of yet,” he said adding that he continues to be opposed to the bill as it is currently written.
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