The controversial wind energy siting bill under consideration on Beacon Hill is effectively dead.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, the co-chairman of a committee responsible for the legislation, announced this week that he will ask that the measure be tabled.
The announcement hands a major victory to opponents concerned about the bill’s effect on local control over wind energy projects.
In remarks Wednesday during an energy forum at the Berkshire South Community Center, Downing said those concerns, plus issues with siting standards and other problems with the legislation and wind energy, prompted him to call for a study of the bill – a move that would prevent the bill from being taken up by the full Legislature in the current session.
The full committee must still vote on his recommendation.
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.
A representative from Keenan’s office said the lawmaker had no comment on Downing’s remarks.
The original bill was meant to streamline permitting and provide standards for large wind energy projects. It would consolidate the permit process for turbines 2 megawatts or larger under a single, local board for municipalities in areas such as Cape Cod that the state designates as a “significant wind resource area.”
In making his decision, Downing said he had considered what he heard from constituents and state officials during 15 hours of hearings on the bill held in Hancock and Barnstable.
The siting bill has been fought by those opposed to putting wind energy projects near residential areas.
Opponents of the bill often cite health problems allegedly caused by a wind turbine at the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility as a reason to be wary of locating wind turbines near homes.
Downing’s comments come on the heels of Senate President Therese Murray, D-Plymouth, earlier this month 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.
“After continuing to learn more about local control and the siting decisions of individual towns, the Senate president expects that for any legislation to go forward, it must have clear language about local control and siting standards that protect residential areas,” David Falcone, Murray’s director of communications, wrote in a statement sent to the Times Thursday.
The Patrick administration and other proponents of the siting bill have argued that it would not diminish 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.
In a statement sent to the Times, Massachusetts Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said that the Patrick administration will continue to hold discussions with legislators on the bill, including on siting standards and municipal oversight.
“Wind siting reform is an important tool in our clean energy portfolio,” Sullivan said, adding that the administration is encouraged by comments Downing made about the need for investments in energy efficiency and solar power.
“The governor’s clean energy agenda is achieving the intended results – we are in it for the long haul,” he said.
Sullivan touted that Massachusetts recently beat out California for the top spot in the country for energy efficiency, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
The local wind energy siting boards called for in the bill would be populated with members from other municipal boards, state Assistant Secretary for Energy Steven Clarke said during a recent interview with the Times.
“The primary logic behind the creation of these wind permitting boards is to provide a single point of entry,” Clarke said. “The bill really does not undermine local control.”
Clarke said the state takes complaints, such as those emanating from Falmouth, seriously.
A panel formed by the state Department of Public Health and Department of Environmental Protection to study health issues surrounding wind energy projects is expected to release its findings within the next week.
State Rep. Randy Hunt, R-Sandwich, who is a member of Downing’s committee, said a study group’s work on the bill will include a look at regulations for siting wind turbines in advance of changes to the permitting process.
Although regulations are usually developed after the passage of related legislation, in the case of siting wind turbines, the details are so important that it appears reasonable to develop regulations first, Hunt said.
In any case, the bill’s chances of getting out of committee in the current session are nil, he said.
“The answer is there’s zero chance that this will be voted on at all,” Hunt said.
In his speech Wednesday, Downing said he would push for the administration to develop siting standards separately from the proposed bill.
“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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