For opponents of land-based wind energy projects, the act's promise is the problem. The Green Communities Act calls for the "as-of-right siting" for alternative energy projects, Wellfleet resident Lilli-Ann Green of the group Wind Wise Massachusetts said in a telephone interview later Wednesday. "As-of-right siting" means a project does not require a special permit, variance, amendment or waiver. "The Green Communities Act has already led to wind turbine projects in places like Falmouth, Fairhaven and Scituate where the normal processes that give abutters rights were not carried out and now people are sick because they live too close to wind turbines," she said.
BUZZARDS BAY – More than five years after signing sweeping legislation to promote renewable energy across the state, the view looked pretty good to Gov. Deval Patrick during an anniversary event Wednesday at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.
“We were convinced if we got this right, the whole world would be our customers,” Patrick said a short distance from the spinning blades of the academy’s wind turbine, the school’s solar-panel studded roofs, and the site of its hydrokinetic energy testing facility.
The Green Communities Act of 2008, along with several other major laws enacted over the past five years, has boosted energy efficiency, spurred job growth and increased the amount of energy from renewable sources such as wind and solar, Patrick said.
With only 3 megawatts of solar energy installed in the state when he was first elected, Patrick set a goal of 250 megawatts by 2017. That has already been surpassed by 31 megawatts, he said.
The state’s current solar capacity is enough to power 42,000 homes or reduce emissions equal to taking 29,000 cars off the road, Patrick said.
Energy-efficiency investments have been even more productive, saving enough energy each year to power 560,000 homes or reduce emissions equal to taking 400,000 cars off the road, he said.
“We have already achieved an 11 percent drop below 1990 levels,” Patrick said about statewide greenhouse gas emissions.
The state’s green-energy efforts have also created thousands of jobs and led to an 11.2 percent growth in the state’s clean technology sector last year, he said.
Wind energy goals unmet
In sharp contrast to these successes, Patrick’s wind energy goal – 2,000 megawatts by 2020 – is still a long way off and has been greeted with suspicion from opponents of both land-based and offshore wind energy projects.
Currently the state has 103 megawatts of wind energy installed, all on land.
Projects such as the two turbines the town of Falmouth installed at its wastewater treatment facility have been roundly criticized by neighbors and other foes of wind energy who say the technology is unreliable and damaging to public health.
And the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm, which Patrick has supported, is still mired in lawsuits and other opposition.
Despite those headwinds, offshore wind energy is the new frontier, said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., Patrick’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs.
On Wednesday, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will hold an auction for 164,750 acres of ocean straddling the border between Massachusetts and Rhode Island for commercial wind energy leasing. A $100 million port terminal to support offshore wind-energy development is under construction in New Bedford.
Sullivan thanked Woods Hole native and former Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian Bowles for working with Patrick to shape the state’s energy policies.
Bowles, who co-founded a clean-energy investment firm after leaving state government, took the opportunity to criticize opponents of wind energy.
“All of us who do know about what the fact pattern truly is … we all have a responsibility to fall in line behind the governor,” Bowles said.
Phil Cavallo, president and CEO of New Bedford-based Beaumont Solar Co., said he had hired Jamil Gimenez, a Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School graduate, who was a speaker at the groundbreaking of the New Bedford terminal project and said he wanted to get into the wind industry.
The company, which has 35 full-time employees and has installed about 30 solar projects on Cape Cod, is “living proof that the Green Communities Act is living up to its promise,” Cavallo said.
Foes fault siting issue
For opponents of land-based wind energy projects, the act’s promise is the problem.
The Green Communities Act calls for the “as-of-right siting” for alternative energy projects, Wellfleet resident Lilli-Ann Green of the group Wind Wise Massachusetts said in a telephone interview later Wednesday. “As-of-right siting” means a project does not require a special permit, variance, amendment or waiver.
“The Green Communities Act has already led to wind turbine projects in places like Falmouth, Fairhaven and Scituate where the normal processes that give abutters rights were not carried out and now people are sick because they live too close to wind turbines,” she said.
After his speech, Patrick said he is skeptical that opponents of wind energy would be satisfied with any study of the health effects from the technology but that he would sign a bill pending in the Legislature calling for such a study if it reaches his desk.
Alicia Barton, CEO of the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, a quasi-public agency established to help create clean energy jobs, said Patrick’s new goal of 1,600 megawatts of solar energy by 2020 is the type of action needed to further support renewable energy in the state.
Getting Cape Wind built is still the first priority in the offshore wind industry, she said.
Although the project may no longer be necessary to kick start the industry, it is an important symbol and can be a catalyst for other developments, she said.
Cape Wind’s opponents were more pointed. “I congratulate the governor on the Green Communities Act with respect to energy efficiency; however, the incentives for Cape Wind have done nothing more than saddle Massachusetts ratepayers with exorbitant costs if the project is allowed to go forward,” Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound President Audra Parker said later Wednesday. “Fortunately there are numerous financial and legal obstacles that make this year the beginning of the end for Cape Wind.”
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