The co-chairman of the joint committee responsible for controversial wind energy siting legislation has announced he will seek to table the measure, spelling its likely demise and handing opponents of the bill a major victory.
In remarks at the Berkshire South Community Center posted on YouTube, state Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, said he had heard concerns about local control, the process of developing siting standards and other problems with the legislation and wind energy that prompted him to call for a study of the bill – effectively ending chances it will be taken up by the full legislature in the current session.
“I believe that we ought to take the three wind energy siting reform acts and put them into a study group,” Downing said. “That will effectively end debate on those bills for this legislative session.”
Downing is co-chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. State Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, is the committee’s other co-chairman.
Representatives from Downing and Keenan’s offices did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the matter.
Downing’s remarks follow on the heels of senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, withdrawing her support for the bill, which has been a major initiative for Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration in its drive to meet wind energy goals he set for the state.
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 into a single, local board for municipalities in areas, such as Cape Cod, that the state designates as a “significant wind resource area.”
“We heard from both and mainly I will tell you people who were opposed to those proposals and to some individuals mostly in the administration who supported those proposals,” Downing said.
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.
Proponents argue change is necessary because of the protracted reviews that wind energy proposals currently face.
The Patrick administration has argued that the siting reform bill would not take away local control and that, without changes in the permitting process, wind energy projects will continue to be bogged down in years of unnecessary and redundant review.
Downing said he would push for the administration to develop siting standards separately from the proposed bills dealing with wind energy siting.
“I think the right siting policy is not to affect the local permitting process at this time and not to affect our existing environmental laws at this time,” he said. “I think we ought to develop siting standards first and I think that is what should move forward. It’s what I support and it’s what I’m going to advocate for in this legislative session.”
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