Supporters’ hopes for a long-awaited wind energy siting bill dimmed last week when Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, announced she does not support the measure.
Murray mentioned the controversial Falmouth turbine and sided with those concerned the siting bill would take away local control over wind projects.
“I think wind power has to be part of the solution for our energy fixes, but I don’t believe losing local control is the way to go so I would have to support my towns who don’t support the siting bill,” Murray said at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce event in Pittsfield.
The bill is meant to streamline permits and provide standards for large wind-energy projects. It would consolidate the permit 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.”
The siting bill has been fought by those opposed to putting wind energy projects near residential areas. Opponents cite the health problems allegedly caused by the wind turbine at the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility.
Last month, Murray said during an interview with the Times that if the bill were to pass it would be “greatly changed.”
The original bill, which failed to clear the Legislature last year, included a net metering provision that Murray liked and which was passed as part of the state’s budget, she said at the Berkshire event.
Net metering allows utility customers who own renewable energy facilities to sell excess power back into the grid. The measure that passed in the state’s supplemental budget increased the cap for energy generated by municipalities.
Murray had been a strong proponent of the original version of the wind siting bill, pushing to pass it during informal sessions in 2010 after it failed to make it to Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk before the end of the Legislature’s formal session.
Murray spokeswoman Laura Schroeder confirmed Monday that her boss no longer supports it.
“The senate president supports local control and is not in favor of the bill,” Schroeder wrote in an email to the Times. “The Senate plans to review other bills pending before the Legislature that address the costs of energy and our renewable energy goals.”
Opponents of the siting bill praised Murray’s change of heart.
“I am very pleased to have read about Terry Murray’s change in attitude,” said Sheila Bowen, president of Windwise~Cape Cod, a group formed to fight local wind energy projects.
Bowen and others have argued that the siting legislation would reduce local control over wind energy projects.
Patrick’s administration has set a goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy generated in the state by 2020 and, while much of those megawatts may come from offshore projects, about one-fourth of the energy was expected to be generated on land.
“Our renewable energy goals remain, independent of the outcome of the legislation,” state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs spokeswoman Catherine Williams wrote in an email to the Times on Monday. “We look forward to wind siting reform, which streamlines permitting while maintaining local controls, passing during this legislative year.”
Local supporters of the siting bill were disheartened.
“We will not be able to go forward with any wind, good, bad or middle of the road until we have something that helps set some guidelines and puts the panic to rest,” said Liz Argo, an Orleans-based advocate and consultant for renewable energy projects.
Giving up on other projects because of the problems with the Falmouth wind turbine is “throwing the baby out with the bath water,” Argo said.
“I just think it’s one more nail in the coffin,” Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative clerk Maggie Downey said, adding that she thinks local land-based community wind was already on life support.
Not everyone has given up on some version of the bill being passed.
Although Murray’s opinion carries a lot of weight there’s still room for a modified version of the bill to succeed, said state Sen. Dan Wolf, D-Harwich.
“I certainly support the concept,” Wolf said. However, whatever form of the bill survives should include an increased level of local control, he said.
The state can play an important role in developing guidelines as part of the bill to help communities properly locate turbines in the future, Wolf and Argo said.
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