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Governor backs wind turbines in Massachusetts

PITTSFIELD – Gov. Deval Patrick, reacting to widening opposition to wind-turbine installations in Berkshire County and elsewhere across the state, declared this week that “wind can be, and should be, among the choices around alternative energy and energy independence, not that every turbine is good in every community or every proposed site.”

During a discussion with Eagle editors and reporters, Patrick noted that “in the Berkshires, I have found that people think windmills in Nantucket Sound are a fine idea, and on the Cape, they think windmills on every ridge in Berkshire County is a fine idea.”

He said that the energy of opponents is “dialed up” among residents who live near proposed wind-turbine installations.

Earlier this year, a tentative plan for a municipal wind project atop Lenox Mountain to power town facilities was abandoned following intense local opposition and a mostly negative recommendation from an appointed wind-energy research panel.

The Patrick administration has advocated production of 2,000 megawatts of wind energy – three-quarters of it from offshore sources – by 2020, up from about 59 megawatts available currently, with a goal of constructing enough wind turbines to power about 800,000 homes.

Criticism of various wind-siting reform proposals has led to a revised bill that may come to a vote on Beacon Hill later this month before the end of the Legislature’s formal session.

“The wind-siting bill has suffered from a certain amount of misinformation by some of my neighbors out here, to tell you the truth,” said Patrick, a part-time Richmond resident.

“The bill is all about local decision-making,” he added, “and it is about a clarity of path. It’s not about the state saying where these things go, it’s about a community deciding, with all the input it can bring to bear, whether a single turbine or a project in their community or neighboring communities makes sense Š so there’s some clarity about the end.”

“Let’s have an up-or-down vote, have an appeal, a final appeal, not years and years and years of uncertainty,” Patrick said. “What I’ve come to understand is that some of the opposition is driven by people who don’t believe that wind should ever be a part of the solution, that wind turbines are never right.

“I’m not there. I respect people who are, but that’s not where I am,” he added. “Is it right everywhere? No, but I think you’ve got to trust people to make those judgments.”

He called for “some science and some uniformity” when the next version of a wind-siting bill emerges from the Legislature.

“It would have a predictable process for an up-and-down vote,” he said.

Patrick said he expects that “we’ll get the wind-siting bill eventually, but it’s going to take a lot better marketing to counter some of the misinformation.”

Wind-turbine opponents contend a siting bill under consideration by lawmakers would give the state power to usurp local decision-making and would permit installations in towns that don’t want them.

“Personally, I hope it never gets out of committee,” said State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli, D-Lenox. “It’s poorly written and needs to be revised.”

The bill, HR 4112, has been approved by the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, chaired by State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield. If approved by the full House and Senate, it would set up a statewide advisory commission, including members from the Berkshire Natural Resources Council and the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

But if the advisory group could not reach a two-thirds majority vote on a project within nine months, the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board could step in with public hearings and an eventual ruling.

“For me, that’s a deal-killer,” Pignatelli said. “I hope the bill dies right away. It’s a stacked deck against the Berkshires because [the advisory group] is largely made up of wind-industry folks and pro-wind people, and that’s where you lose local control.

“I’m a huge local-control guy and I want us to be in charge of where wind projects go.”