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Windwise worries energy bill will bring more turbines, higher prices

FAIRHAVEN – Members of Windwise are upset by the passage of an energy bill this week that they feel will give advantages to wind developers and lead to an increase in the number of turbines state wide.

The bill titled “An act relative to competitively priced electricity in the commonwealth” doubles the amount of renewable energy that utilities must obtain through contracts that last for 10 to 20 years.

Members of Windwise, a turbine opposition group, worry that the government is aiding an industry that they say is harmful to humans.

“We have huge health problems with the turbines here in Fairhaven, and instead of dealing with that we are entering into more long-term contracts with developers,” said Louise Barteau, a West Island resident who went to Beacon Hill last month to lobby against the bill.

Barteau said she is disheartened by the bill’s passage after attending a Board of Health meeting last week. At the meeting Laurel Carlson, a technician for the Department of Environmental Protection said the state has neither the laws nor the technology to regulate or test turbines for infrasound, which turbine opponents say causes health problems like elevated blood pressure and migraines.

While Barteau said she understands that long-term contracts are necessary for wind developers to finance their projects, she said “we need to adequately test what we have and solve these problems before we have a long-term commitment.”

“It just seems like common sense to me,” she said.

In a statement, Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rick Sullivan defended the increased need for renewable energy.

“Renewable energy decreases our reliance on volatile fossil fuel markets, helps protect the environment and creates local jobs with home-based fuel source projects,” he said.

Windwise members are also concerned about parts of the bill that double the amount of renewable energy utilities are required to buy from commercial producers.

Until 2010, companies wanting to sell renewable energy they had produced but had not used could only do so at a wholesale price. Then, in an effort to encourage development of renewable energy, the state passed a law allowing developers to sell their surpluses at the higher retail rate so long as their turbines or panels were located on municipal property, as is the case in Fairhaven and Dartmouth.

This new bill increases the amount of surplus energy that utilities are required to buy from developers; something Barteau worries will result in higher prices for energy consumers.

“We end up having the burden of the health effects and footing the bill,” she said.

Ken Pottel, another Fairhaven Windwise member, said he is frustrated by the passage of the bill and he believes legislators felt party pressure to pass it.

“The only people who disagree with turbines are Tea Partiers and the ones feeling the health effects,” he said. “It’s a classic example of politics makes strange bedfellows, because I’m liberal. But it’s really an uphill battle because the lawmakers think their political future is tied to supporting turbines.”