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Senate President Murray backs turbine choice

PITTSFIELD – State Senate President Therese Murray said on Wednesday that she would not support a moratorium on windmills in Massachusetts because all options need to be considered to satisfy the state’s future energy needs.

“There are places where you can put them where they are not harmful to people,” Murray said, while answering questions at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce function at the Country Club of Pittsfield.

As examples, the Plymouth Democrat referred to two projects in her home district: A windmill going up on a landfill in Kingston and a similar facility that supplies power for dormitories at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy in Bourne.

“You can’t just cut everything out of the mix,” Murray said. “Everything has to be done correctly and they have to be placed in the right place.”

Murray, who attended the event with state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, fielded several questions about wind power, broadband, and the proposed Wind Energy Siting Reform Act from Berkshire residents Jonas Dovydenas, Terry Flynn, Eleanor Tillinghast and Harley Keisch. Keisch is a member of Preserve Lenox Mountain, an advocacy group that opposes the siting of industrial-scale wind turbines on Berkshire ridges.

Flynn said he was in favor of declaring a state moratorium on wind energy because of concern for environmental damage the construction of wind turbines would cause, the higher fees that ratepayers would
be assessed, and the increasing concerns that surround wind power.

“We need to do more research,” he said.

Noting that state funding for tourism in the Berkshires increased this year, Keisch said wind turbines on ridges would be “devastating to property values” in the county, would cause utility rates to go “up instead of down,” and are not a reliable source of energy.

“You say that they should be part of the mix, but I think until we really understand the scientific basis for it, there are other alternatives,” Keisch said.

“Putting [wind turbines] on a ridge, that’s your issue out here,” Murray responded. “I get that. I certainly can hear you on that. But taking them out of other places where they do fit, I don’t agree with. It does fit in some places. It may not be right for your ridge. But it has to be part of the mix.”

Dovydenas asked Murray for her opinion on the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, which would shift the responsibility for siting wind turbines to an unelected board that would have the power to override local government decisions. Murray said some towns in her district, notably Falmouth, have had problems with the siting of wind facilities on municipal property.

“I think wind power has to be part of the solution for our energy fixes,” Murray said, “but I don’t believe losing local control is the way to go. So I would have to support my towns that don’t support the siting bill.”

Her comments were met with applause.

Downing, who chairs the joint Committee on Telecommunications and Energy, invited those interested in the siting bill to attend an energy forum that he will hold on Wednesday, Dec. 14, at the Berkshire South Community Center in Great Barrington.

“Please come there because we’re going to be talking about that issue and others as well,” he said, “and I really want it to be a dialogue.”

Referring to state energy issues in general, Downing said, “I don’t think anybody can dispute that there are complex issues around all of it.”

“There’s a lot of programs out there that aren’t getting into communities, into neighborhoods,” he said. “I think there’s more work to be done around any number of different energy issues.”