Gov. Deval Patrick’s green energy initiative somehow ended up proposing industrial wind turbines all over the hills of Berkshire County – and practically nowhere else.
Data from the state’s Department of Energy Resources website shows the skewed distribution.
Of 631 proposed wind turbines on state-owned land, 559 – nearly 90 percent – are placed in far-western Mass.
A state map showing the concentrated cluster of proposed turbines in the Berkshires is shown at: http://www.mass.gov/Eoeea/docs/doer/renewables/wind/index_map_state.pdf.
The imbalance is only one reason why more critics are questioning Patrick’s wind initiative, along with state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing’s (D-Pittsfield) historical support of a bill creating a controversial new set of rules specifically for the wind industry – that critics say degrades local authority to regulate land use.
For its part, the Patrick administration insists the proposed bill to streamline the approval process for companies wanting to site wind turbines would result in no loss of local control. They say wind turbines will not be sprouting up where cities and towns say no.
“If communities want wind, it is their choice, if they don’t that is in their control,” said Steve Clarke, assistant Secretary for Energy for the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs, adding: “We assume that most of the megawatt potential for wind energy would be from offshore.”
Downing was asked about the proposed bill.
“I have not made up my mind yet” on Senate Bill 1666, Downing said in an interview with the Record. He dismissed as “a rumor” suggestions that his support of the legislation is the main force keeping it alive.
“That is a rumor, that is all that is,” Downing said.
Concern about the legislation prompted Sheffield selectmen this week to send Downing a letter listing their problems with it.
Loss of local control is mentioned. As is objections contained in the legislation spelling out two entirely different appeal processes – one for wind project builders, and another for opponents of decisions to permit a facility.
A builder denied permission to construct a wind facility by a municipality is entitle to appeal to the court system.
However, a local resident opposed to a facility siting decision is barred from going to court. And unless ten or more people band together – and meet certain eligibility criteria – they have no appeal rights, according to language in the bill. And should a group be granted standing to appeal, they are only allowed to bring that to a state agency to be called the “Energy Facilities Siting Board.”
The main purpose of that board is not to hear appeals, but to “provide a reliable supply” of wind energy in-state, according to language in the Senate bill.
An opponent of wind power who disagrees with a decision granting permission to build a wind turbine “can be further appealed to the state’s Supreme Judicial Court,” Clarke stated. When told there was no language in the Senate bill with a right to appeal to the SJC, Clarke stated the house version of the bill, House 1775, contains the language.
House bill 1775 says “An interested party who is substantially and specifically aggrieved by a decision of the wind energy permitting board or a regional planning agency granting a permit … may appeal the decision to the energy facilities siting board and this appeal shall be the exclusive means of review.” A companion House bill, H. 1759, also includes no right of appeal to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The Sheffield selectmen say the facilities siting board created by the legislation is unbalanced – because it has authority to override local rules, regulations and laws, creating a state agency “that knows no bounds when it comes to permitting wind energy projects.”
The selectmen said they want universal criteria in place regulating the building, operation and decommissioning of wind turbines – prior to consideration of Sen. 1666.
“The will of the local community codified in its laws … and regulatory requirements is swept aside,” with the proposed law, the letter signed by Sheffield Selectmen Rene C. Wood, David A. Smith, Jr., and Julie M. Hannum states. Selectmen wrote that they continue to “support the efforts of Gov. Patrick and the Legislature to facilitate the use of green energy sources to combat climate changes.”
The board asks Downing “to include impacts on significant local scenic, recreational or archeological resources in any proposed legislation, as these are of particular importance in the Berkshires and Cape Cod, where tourism is a major economic engine.”
Downing is Senate chairman of the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. The Sheffield letter was also sent to John D. Keenan, D-Salem, the house chairman.
Downing says the bill prohibits wind turbines on state land.
Neither Downing nor the Patrick administration can say where the land-based wind turbines would be built.
“At this point we can’t say where turbines would be located, Barbara Kates-Garnick, Energy Undersecretary at the state EOEEA said. “We don’t have the numbers,” she said. “It is the market and local communities who will decide.”
Downing said Massachusetts has not developed the sorts of standards the Sheffield selectmen and others are demanding. Downing said the location of where possible future wind turbines get built “is unknowable” – precisely because standards are lacking.