Wind Facilities Siting Act

After two days of debate, the house passed a bill facilitating the siting of land based wind facilities. The vote was 101 to 52 and I voted in the majority.

There was strong opposition from affected communities in western Massachusetts and on the Cape — the mountains and coastal areas are the best sites for wind facilities. Local opposition to highly visible wind facilities is understandable, but I do believe that overly complex permitting procedures are slowing our national transition to renewable energy sources.

There were two basic arguments that I evaluated particularly carefully in considering this bill. The first concern was that the bill would abrogate local authority. In fact, it does preserve local control. It requires municipalities to identify a single authority which will issue a comprehensive permit, but does not allow state bureaucrats to overrule a denial. The only appeal of a denial is to the courts (as it would be today). If the abutters wish to appeal a local approval, they can appeal to the state and the state can only strengthen (not weaken) locally imposed conditions. Further appeal of a local approval in the courts is permitted.

The second argument is a subtler one — that the streamlining would result in a weakening of wetlands protection, by eliminating the exclusive enforcement role of the conservation commissions, which tend to be strong enforcers of those laws. This is a fair concern, but there are some mitigating factors. The consolidated local permitting authority must apply local bylaws. specifically including wetlands bylaws, and also must consult with other local boards.

At the state level, there is also a consolidated process for addressing state permits. That process is to be governed by standards that are supposed to reflect wetlands concerns. Granted, a body created by gubernatorial appointment is responsible for the development of those standards and so their strength may be effected by administration views.

The interaction of state wetlands law with the process remained unclear to me in the draft. The language of the bill was in flux throughout the process — unually messy for reasons that are unclear. The final language differs from the Senate’s previously passed language, so a conference committee will be necessary to resolve differences. If a committee is appointed (as opposed to letting the bill die) and it is able to reach agreement, the final conference report is likely to look rather different. The fate of the bill remains unclear.

Not a simple issue, but I felt that the bill struck something like the right balance between respecting local and environmental concerns and allowing the state to make progress on a central priority.

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

7 replies on “Wind Facilities Siting Act”

  1. Will, I appreciate your efforts, but I hope this bill dies. No way to circumvent the Wetlands Protection Act is acceptable.

    The basic issue is: Should wind turbines be on virgin mountains or should they be on mountains with ski slopes? If they’re on mountains with ski slopes, there will already be roads; on the other hand, the wind developer will have to negotiate with the ski resort owner over compensation, noise, appearance.

    If they’re on virgin mountains with no roads, they’ll have to build a road for an 18-wheeler to get the turbines up. Usually those mountains have small streams running down them. The road will have to cross these streams perhaps a dozen times. Trumping everything, from the point of view of the wind developer, virgin mountains are usually for sale cheap. The only snag until now has been the Wetlands Protection Act, which protects those small streams.

    If this bill passes, there will be no protection at all for those streams. The small towns in which these virgin mountains are located usually want development and don’t care much about protecting the mountains or the streams. They don’t have local wetlands bylaws. Only the state Wetland Protection Act provided any protection at all.

    Sadly, Sue Bass

    1. I do think we should give some credence to the siting standards which include consideration of wetlands issues. It is worth noting that Mass Audubon and the Conservation Law Foundation both endorsed the legislation.

  2. This surely is a complicated issue. I keep thinking about the struggle over the housing development in the Silver Maple Woods and how the state has been eager to push development at the expense of the environment. In the case of wind turbines I would much prefer to see them on top of ski resorts. In the long run I guess I would prefer wind turbines on any mountain tops over coal-fired power plants on industrial zoned land.

  3. We have virgin mountains with no roads in Massachusetts? I mean ones that aren’t already in state parks?

  4. late reply on this but agree WPA must not be weakened and share concern on construction impact on environment. The bigger issue is that wind power is not the benign power source it is presented to be. Negative impact on birds and bats is major (bat mortality shown to be from lung rupture due to brief vacuum, not impact). MAS figures skewed due to inadequate observation of flight patterns. Huge CA farms have some ranks of turbines idled due to impact on golden eagles. There is more sophisticated technology available including pole turbines. Siting in relation to flight patterns is vital and difficult to achieve. Conservation and photovoltaic solar on existing buildings and new construction is more effective in the long run. Cape Wind became a fight between aesthetics and global warming which totally misses the point: environmental damage and use of public lands for private profit.

  5. It is AMAZING! the rich liberals that tell us all we need to make sacrifices to save the planet are the same ones that fight construction of wind turbines and anything else that gets put within there view “NIMBY’S” like the Kennedy’s with Cape Wind. Al Gore leaving a carbon footprint that rivals most small cities but telling us the Earth “has a temperature” all the sacrifice must be made by the “common people” but not effect the views, lifestyles etc… of the “Progressive Elite”

  6. Oh! You Prius driving morons! do realize that the vehicle you drive does more to harm the environment than a HUMMER! those batteries that need to be replaced every 5 years and are manufactured in china where there are very little environmental standards, shipped via a carbon spewing diesel powered cargo ship and then recycled in a another country (china or india) that once again can recycle them and dump the toxic parts into the environment.
    And if you drive mostly highway they are actually less efficiant than a gas powered model.

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