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Proposal weakens towns' control of wind turbine siting

A proposed bill that aims to streamline the permitting process for land-based wind turbines has some Cape officials worried it will give the state veto power over local zoning regulations. The Green Communities Act Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law last year created a commission to analyze whether fossil fuel projects have an unfair advantage over renewable energy projects.

A proposed bill that aims to streamline the permitting process for land-based wind turbines has some Cape officials worried it will give the state veto power over local zoning regulations.

The Green Communities Act Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law last year created a commission to analyze whether fossil fuel projects have an unfair advantage over renewable energy projects.

"There's recognition that we've created a much stronger green power mandate on the utilities, and our siting laws need to catch up to that," the state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, said during a telephone interview yesterday, referring to the governor's goal of powering the state with 2,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020.

To that end, a report commissioned by the state and released in April found that regulatory hurdles for wind projects in the state were significant and recommended a "one-stop shopping" approach for permits similar to what exists in other states.

But for municipalities and citizens on Cape Cod and in other parts of the state, the siting commission's findings remain largely a mystery, which has led some to question whether the proposed fix will... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

A proposed bill that aims to streamline the permitting process for land-based wind turbines has some Cape officials worried it will give the state veto power over local zoning regulations.

The Green Communities Act Gov. Deval Patrick signed into law last year created a commission to analyze whether fossil fuel projects have an unfair advantage over renewable energy projects.

"There's recognition that we've created a much stronger green power mandate on the utilities, and our siting laws need to catch up to that," the state secretary of Energy and Environmental Affairs, Ian Bowles, said during a telephone interview yesterday, referring to the governor's goal of powering the state with 2,000 megawatts of wind energy by 2020.

To that end, a report commissioned by the state and released in April found that regulatory hurdles for wind projects in the state were significant and recommended a "one-stop shopping" approach for permits similar to what exists in other states.

But for municipalities and citizens on Cape Cod and in other parts of the state, the siting commission's findings remain largely a mystery, which has led some to question whether the proposed fix will allow the state to supersede local authority in much the same way as it can now with affordable housing projects built under Chapter 40B laws.

"The primary concern is that the measure would change the appeals process so that decisions of local boards would be appealed to the (state's Energy Facilities Siting Board) as opposed to the courts, which is the current system," said Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

The association believes the siting board, which is responsible for ensuring the state has reliable energy with minimal impact on the environment at the lowest possible cost, could be biased - unlike the courts, Beckwith said.

If the authority of towns is weakened in the permitting process, developers could choose to forgo working with municipal officials altogether, Beckwith said.

Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, said the state has worked with regional planning and regulatory agencies on changes to the legislation.

The newest language proposed for the legislation preserves the authority of the Cape agency and the Martha's Vineyard Commission as long as they have a plan in place to address standards and permitting for land-based wind turbines, Niedzwiecki said.

Town officials were not so reassured by the state's actions.

"I know I would be very concerned especially along the coastlines and with tourism issues," said Bourne Town Administrator Thomas Guerino. The action at the state level seems to shadow the way it handled the siting of hazardous materials treatment plants about two decades ago, Guerino said.

"The state sees it as a necessity," he said. "Because it is a necessity it will preempt local statutes."

While there have been a handful of complaints about the proposed legislation, Bowles downplayed the idea that the state would intervene in every single wind turbine siting. The number of areas where the proposed bill could be used is in the "dozens" not in the "hundreds," he said, noting that the legislation being considered now would only apply to turbines that produce more than 2 megawatts of power. And so far, none of the existing turbines on the Cape meet that 2-megawatt threshold, though plans for multiple turbine projects in the future could fall under the proposed law.

Still, other Cape officials said they shared Guerino's concerns but knew little, if anything, about the proposed legislation.

Megan Amsler, co-chairman of the Falmouth energy committee and executive director of Cape and Islands Self-Reliance, a nonprofit organization that promotes sustainable practices and environmentally sound technologies, said the state should educate the public more about its efforts.

Amsler said she would like to see a streamlined permitting process, especially in light of Falmouth's protracted efforts to site a wind turbine, but questioned how "one-stop" permitting would work.

The bill is expected to come out of committee in the next several weeks and then be taken up by the full Senate.


Source: http://www.capecodonline.co...

MAY 28 2009
http://www.windaction.org/posts/20454-proposal-weakens-towns-control-of-wind-turbine-siting
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