BOSTON – Twenty members of the statewide turbine opposition group Windwise met Thursday at Beacon Hill to lobby against two energy bills they say could lead to an increase in the number of turbines across Massachusetts.
Supporters of the first bill, titled “An act relative to competitively priced electricity in the commonwealth,” say the bill doubles the amount of energy utilities must accept through net metering, or buy at retail price, making the energy market more competitive.
But Windwise members worry the emphasis on net metering will actually put pressure on local municipalities to build wind turbines to support the new demand. They also are opposed to the bill doubling the amount of renewable energy utilities must obtain through 10- or 20-year contracts.
“Our concern is that this bill will actually have an opposite impact than the Legislature expects,” said Eleanor Tillinghast, an environmentalist who organized the Windwise lobbying effort. “You have these long-term contracts that lock in high, above-market rates.”
The law would also require that instead of receiving real estate tax from developers, municipalities could receive only a payment of up to 5 percent of a facility’s electric sales.
“Towns right now need every penny they can get. We’re in a recession,” Tillinghast said. “When you’re a town, your tax rate is predictable. You know how much to put into the budget. What this bill means is that they are at the whim of the wind, essentially, and they’ll find themselves getting fewer and fewer taxes.”
More concerning to members of Windwise is the part of the bill that would require the Attorney General’s Office and the Department of Energy Resources to study and decide whether the state itself could enter into long-term renewable contracts with developers on state land.
“This gives the state a lot of power,” Tillinghast said. “You have a body of the government that was appointed by a governor with a political agenda to build 1,000 turbines in Massachusetts that is now going to decide what to do.”
That portion of the bill would be made stronger by the other bill Windwise was lobbying against called “An act relative to the development of wind siting standards.”
That bill would charge the Energy Facilities Siting Board with creating rules and regulations for standards regarding onshore wind facilities.
Windwise fears that the two bills, in combination, would allow the state to easily put turbines on state land without the approval of neighboring local governments.
West Island in Fairhaven has a 338-acre parcel that belongs to the state. In a 2009 study of where the state could fit wind turbines on its land, it was determined the state could fit up to eight turbines on the land on West Island.
Rep. William Straus, D-Mattapoisett, who represents Fairhaven, said in an interview Tuesday that the state land on West Island is currently categorized as protected land. In order for the state to build turbines on the island, two-thirds of the Legislature would have to vote to change the land’s designation to energy production.
“I don’t think it’d be very likely for that to happen, but it worried me enough that when a similar version of this bill came up in December, I voted against it, in part for this reason,” Straus said. “I don’t want to see state park land made accessible for energy facilities.”
Straus said if it came to a vote of the wind siting standards bill, he would vote against it, saying “I don’t know anybody that’s against clean energy, but that said, for me the local participation in decision making is critical, and this bill wouldn’t allow for that.”
He added that he was not ready to say how he would vote on the energy-pricing bill because he had to do more research.