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All cost and no benefit: Wind-siting bill promotes lawlessness

Senators and Representatives,

I’ve been an environmental activist for 25 years, spearheading successful campaigns against developments that threatened habitat and vistas in eastern and western Massachusetts.

As a Sierra Club member, I’ve long supported alternative energy. At BCC (Berkshire Community College), where I teach and have been MassPIRG faculty adviser for 15 years, I co-created the school’s recycling program, this year ranked third most effective college program in the state.

These “green” credentials allow me to raise a caution about industrial-scale wind energy – alone among all forms of alternative energy.

The comforting image of majestic wind turbines turning gracefully against the sky, generating clean, limitless energy – seemingly all benefit and no cost – begins to tarnish as we hear about particulars that neither wind developers nor government agencies care to discuss.

For example, we hear about the fragmentation of wildlife habitat by 50-story turbines whose sound and strobe effects, like giant scarecrows, drive away most species, while achieving an alarmingly high rate of outright bird and bat kills.

We hear about the turbines’ high-frequency noise – and its inaudible low-frequency counterpart, “infrasound” that creates headaches, vertigo and hypertension among humans living within 2 miles.

We hear about studies confirming this symptom cluster – dubbed “wind turbine syndrome” – by physicians and researchers around the world.

We hear about once-rural, now industrialized, landscapes, of particular concern in tourism-dependent areas. We hear about turbine-induced forest fires and ice-throws of a half-mile, like that at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where windshields have been smashed by thrown ice. We hear about declining property values and even abandoned homes no one will buy.

And – the kicker – we hear about wind-generated electricity’s undependable and intermittent nature, requiring back-up from conventional power plants ramping up and down to meet fluctuations in wind supply and therefore releasing, in some cases, more carbon into the atmosphere than they do when running at an even rate.

Finally, we learn that, despite a pro1iferation of wind plants in Europe, Asia and North America, no conventional power plant has yet been taken offline on their account, on any continent.

Disillusionment sets in; the picture begins to look like all cost and no benefit.

The jury is still out on this form of energy – but meanwhile its development proceeds at an increasing pace. The editor of The Vineyard Gazette recently described what she called “alternative energy’s Wild West.” This echoed an earlier comment by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, formerly Connecticut’s attorney general, who described the rush to develop industrial wind energy as “lawless.”

Undoubtedly, promoters of the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act (S.1666) would argue that their bill will bring more law to this process, but I would argue that it will actually contribute to lawlessness.


First, it would deny local planning, zoning, conservation and health boards any meaningful control over decisions about if and where a wind plant could be constructed in their community.

Instead, a local “wind siting board” would be appointed (not elected) and could waive all bylaws and regulations, also Town Meeting votes, in order to grant a permit.

This strikes me as lawless.

Second, in the likely event that a permit is granted, neither abutters nor town officials could appeal to anyone other than the state’s (appointed) Energy Facilities Siting Board, that’s earned a reputation for granting permits.

But in the unlikely event that a permit is denied, the developer could appeal to Superior Court – a course of action the bill bars opponents from taking.

So this undemocratic bill streamlines a process by which political appointees expedite development proposals at a time when caution is warranted and defends the right of court appeal for developers while denying it to citizens and elected officials. These are exactly the kinds of circumstances that inspired Sen. Blumenthal’s comment. Are the bill’s authors familiar with the concepts of “due process” and “equal protection”?

You don’t have to oppose wind power to find this bill alarming. By sidelining two centuries of zoning and environmental laws that make Massachusetts a role model for other states, WESRA attacks head-on the finest democratic traditions of the commonwealth.

This is lawless.

I don’t believe this bill can be fixed or revised; it cannot be tweaked; it can only be rejected. In order to do that, your committee must report it out unfavorably.

This will take the independence of mind that characterizes true leadership and brings others to your point of view, not by political pressure but by persuasion.

My interest in thie bill is not entirely academic. It’s been a 15-year labor of love in which I’ve restored a beautiful 18th-century farmhouse and developed a small business at the top of Hoosac Ridge, where a 16-turbine wind plant is being considered. Because of all I stand to gain with your support, and all I stand to lose without it, I urge each of you to exercise that independence of mind and that true leadership.

Dr. Wayne Klug is a Pittsfield resident. To read more testimony from Western Mass. residents, visit http://windwise-ma.org/aboutlegislation/testimony/. The committee invites your e-testimony on S.1666; email
Benjamin.Downing@masenate.gov and