There will be a new multi-agency push to support towns, developers and communities struggling to install and live with wind energy projects, the state’s top environmental and energy official announced on Thursday.
The intent is to provide guidance for siting wind turbines and to address concerns such as those in communities like Falmouth where neighbors of existing wind energy projects have complained about health issues caused by the operation of the machines.
“I really do think that these decisions are ultimately local decisions in terms of siting,” state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. said.
The effort announced by Sullivan – dubbed the Community Wind Outreach Initiative – will include representatives from his office, the Department of Energy Resources, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, the state Department of Environmental Protection and the state Energy Facilities Siting Board.
The initiative will include increased support for communities that have operating turbines or those reviewing new wind energy projects, according to a press release from Sullivan’s office.
Support could include technical expertise as well as financial assistance, such as ways to offset expenses incurred by municipalities forced to comply with DEP noise standards, Sullivan said.
In addition, a technical advisory group will look at possible changes in regulations and noise policy for wind turbines, the state siting board will develop comprehensive siting guidance, and the Clean Energy Center will continue monitoring the effects of operating wind turbines, according to the press release.
There are lessons to be learned from successful wind energy projects, as well as from projects like Falmouth’s where problems have cropped up, Sullivan said.
The advisory group is expected to rely on a 2012 Wind Turbine Health Impact Study that was limited to a review of the existing scientific literature on the subject and found no evidence of direct health effects from the operation of wind turbines, but Sullivan said he didn’t expect to stop there.
“Again, we’re not sitting here saying we have all the right answers,” he said. “We want to get this right.”
Opponents of wind energy projects around the state criticized the 2012 report for not going far enough to investigate claims that wind turbines cause a variety of symptoms, including headaches, dizziness and elevated blood pressure.
Sullivan said he is open to the possibility of a more comprehensive state or federally supported study of the health effects of wind turbines.
“I would absolutely not take that off the table,” he said.
In 2009, Gov. Deval Patrick called for 2,000 megawatts of onshore and offshore wind energy in the state by 2020. Since that time, about 100 megawatts have been installed, all land-based, and some of the projects, including wind turbines in Falmouth, have been mired in controversy.
State officials have estimated that about 75 percent or 1,500 megawatts of the 2020 goal will come from offshore projects like the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm and the rest will be generated by land-based turbines.
On Thursday, Sullivan cautioned that those percentages are not set in stone and less of the overall goal may come from land-based projects.
The Community Wind Outreach Initiative is the latest in a series of efforts to establish guidelines for the placement of wind energy projects.
In 2011, a comprehensive wind-energy siting reform bill died in the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy after opponents raised concerns that it would strip local communities of control over wind energy projects.
Although the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, has been reintroduced, its likelihood of success does not appear to have changed.
State Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, and Rep. John Keenan, D-Salem, chairmen of the joint committee, had not seen the newest proposal from Sullivan and the Patrick administration and therefore couldn’t comment on it, according to legislative aides.
Another bill seeking to establish different standards for wind energy projects was reported favorably out of the committee but died in House Ways and Means, said Liam Holland, research director with the telecommunications, utilities and energy committee.
Smizik’s bill is still pending in front of the committee, Downing’s chief of staff, Bethann Steiner, said.
“I don’t think Sen. Downing’s feelings have changed on that bill,” she said about the decision to effectively kill previous versions of the bill.
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