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State puts wind in new generating plans’ sails

Seeking to reverse the state's reputation as a difficult place to build wind farms, legislators are refining a plan to fast-track turbine developments through local and state boards. The proposed legislation, introduced in January by Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, would create local wind siting boards in areas with significant wind resources, enabling developers to go to a single board for all necessary permits.

Seeking to reverse the state's reputation as a difficult place to build wind farms, legislators are refining a plan to fast-track turbine developments through local and state boards.

The proposed legislation, introduced in January by Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, would create local wind siting boards in areas with significant wind resources, enabling developers to go to a single board for all necessary permits. Under the bill, if the board were to decline to issue the permits or take more than four months to rule on a particular matter, the developer could appeal to the Energy Facilities Siting Board.

Authorized to provide comprehensive permits for power plants, the EFSB's rulings could only be overturned by the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

"Massachusetts requires too many permits by too many entities with too many opportunities for appeal. Other states have much lower requirements," said Ian Bowles, the state's secretary of energy and environment. "Siting has been a key barrier to development."

While the state has set a goal of generating 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020 - the equivalent of three to five fossil fuel... more [truncated due to possible copyright]  

Seeking to reverse the state's reputation as a difficult place to build wind farms, legislators are refining a plan to fast-track turbine developments through local and state boards.

The proposed legislation, introduced in January by Rep. Brian Dempsey of Haverhill and Sen. Michael Morrissey of Quincy, would create local wind siting boards in areas with significant wind resources, enabling developers to go to a single board for all necessary permits. Under the bill, if the board were to decline to issue the permits or take more than four months to rule on a particular matter, the developer could appeal to the Energy Facilities Siting Board.

Authorized to provide comprehensive permits for power plants, the EFSB's rulings could only be overturned by the state's Supreme Judicial Court.

"Massachusetts requires too many permits by too many entities with too many opportunities for appeal. Other states have much lower requirements," said Ian Bowles, the state's secretary of energy and environment. "Siting has been a key barrier to development."

While the state has set a goal of generating 2,000 megawatts of wind power by 2020 - the equivalent of three to five fossil fuel plants, or 10 percent of the state's energy demand - it has just 6.6 megawatts installed to date. Bowles said while most of the state's potential for large wind development resides off the coast, there are significant onshore wind resources throughout the state.

Wind developers contend Massachusetts' byzantine siting rules for wind farms - which involve numerous local and state permitting and regulatory authorities - waste too much time, money and risk. Those obstacles stand in stark contrast to policies in neighboring states offering easier paths to development.

"Quite honestly it's probably the biggest reason why we haven't spent time looking in Massachusetts," said Paul Gaynor, chief executive of Newton wind developer First Wind LLC. The firm is developing several hundreds of megawatts of wind farms across the country, but none in Massachusetts.

The state's image has been tarnished by lengthy fights to site developments, mainly in western Massachusetts.

For example, the Hoosac Wind project, a 30 MW development proposed by Iberdrola SA, has been in the permitting process for nearly eight years, the last five fighting an appeal of the wetlands permit it received.

Likewise, the 15 MW Berkshire Wind project took 10 years to site and a change in ownership hands from the original developer to the Massachusetts Municipal Wholesale Electric Co., which had agreed to purchase the project's power. Construction will begin soon.

"We shared the agony of the delays with the developer. What (legislators) have proposed certainly would have expedited the process," said MMWEC spokesman David Tuohey.

In comparison, First Wind's siting of wind farms in Maine took between two years and four years.

"Someone like First Wind looks at that and says, ‘That is a bad track record,' " Gaynor said.

State officials said the changes would cut the permitting process to under 18 months, and the appeal process to 12 months.

However, groups that have fought to keep turbines out of their communities have voiced concerns over the proposal. They say compressed comment periods and a lack of appeal options essentially squashes any attempts to oppose development.

"I think it is an outrageous attempt by the governor to eliminate local control over the development of industrial wind facilities," said Eleanor Tillinghast of Green Berkshires, a group fighting wind projects in western Massachusetts.

Furthermore, some municipal lawmakers feel a state siting board is not a fair place for energy developers or citizens groups to appeal local decisions.

"The EFSB is not a court. ... It removes a lot of the incentive for developers to work with the communities," said Rob Garrity, a member of the board of selectman in Norfolk and a member of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

The association supports most of the legislation, but suggests appeals should go through the court system.

State leaders have bowed to local pressures when it comes to siting traditional fossil fuel plants. To be sure, plant developers must first go to town zoning boards and incorporate local concerns in development plans. But wind, many contend, is a different animal from other generating facilities.

Environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Massachusetts Audubon Society and Conservation Law Foundation, testified before the state's Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy this week in support of the proposed law - provided the site-selection and permitting process weighs potential environmental impacts.

Bowles says he is optimistic the bill will move quickly out of committee and to a full vote. But even if the legislation goes into effect soon, Gaynor said it will take a half-dozen permits to be issued successfully before large investors change their mind on Massachusetts.


Source: http://www.bizjournals.com/...

MAY 22 2009
https://www.windaction.org/posts/20438-state-puts-wind-in-new-generating-plans-sails
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