Local legislators and state officials debate regulations during Hyannis wind energy hearing

The state, towns, residents or the Cape Cod Commission? Determining who has the final say on land-based turbines

By Gerald Rogovin

A reform bill thatwould streamline permitting, and reduce the number of regulations for largeland-based wind turbines brought about 90 testifiers and interestedcitizens to Barnstable High School's KnightAuditorium Thursday.

They were thereto support or oppose eight proposed bills by the State Legislature's JointCommittee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy in a six-hour publichearing.

It was the secondsuch hearing conducted by the Committee. The first was held September 7 inHancock in the western part of the state. A September 26 hearing scheduled at Cape Cod Community College wasdelayed until Thursday so that legislators could debate the casino issue.

The hearingswere held in the Berkshires and on the Cape  by the Committee,according to Co-Chair Benjamin B. Downing (D-Pittsfield). He told CapeCodToday.com, "Most public hearings take place at the StateHouse. But our committee felt strongly that the wind energy bills, specificallysiting reform bills, should be discussed in the regions of the Commonwealth...where the greatestpotential for land-based wind power exists."

Three of theeight bills presented were proposed by area legislators: RepresentativeDemetrius Atsalis (D-Barnstable) proposed two bills (Bill H.1757, Bill H.1756)  that would seek furtherregulation of offshore energy facilities, and prohibit siting wind turbineswithin 3,000 feet of a residence. Representative Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket)offered legislation (Bill H.2620)  seeking authorization to exclude siting wind turbineswithin three miles of state waters. Offshore wind turbines, including the CapeWind project, would not be affected.

The bills, underthe heading of the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, were introduced in the threeprevious legislative sessions, and were defeated, by a single vote last year.

"We cannotafford to  allow those who are fundamentally and physically opposed towind energy per se to thwart the will of the great majority of residents." - BarbaraKates-Garnick, EEA Energy Undersecretary

They wouldconsolidate the permitting process for land-based turbines two or moremegawatts in output in a single local board. On the Cape, such a board wouldrepresent what the state designates as a"significant wind resource area."

Local boardswould be established to handle wind turbine proposals as single entitiesinstead of requiring developers to seek approvals from a gamut of localcommittees.

The rejection earlier this week by asubcommittee of the Cape Cod Commission of a project in Bourne to build fourland-based wind turbines illustrated the legislation's objective. The stated reason for the rejectionwas that the project did not meet a county standard that measures local benefitand demand, one of more than 200 minimum performance standards of the Commission.

The developers,who reduced the number of turbines from seven because neighbors objected,alleged that the subcommittee's vote was inconsistent with the Commission's own Regional Policy Plan forBarnstable County, which encourages use  of renewable energy.

Local wind energypermitting boards, in the proposed legislation, would consist of at least onemember of a local zoning board, the local conservation commission and the local planning board. The energyboard would confer with other municipal boards as part of the process.

Proponents hopethat expediting the application process will put more turbines onto thelandscape.

Those appealing alocal board decision could go directly to the state Energy Facilities SitingBoard under the legislation.

Under theproposals, the state would identify communities that have significantwind resources. Those with lower wind velocities also could establish suchboards.

Issues of local control have delayed the development of windenergy at both ends of the state. August 8 was the 10th anniversary of CapeWind's announcement of its plan to build the nation's first offshorewind farm. After what was expected to be  an 18-month review processbefore the project's approval, it has become one of more than 122 months and still counting.

The BerkshireWind Power Project, the state's first land-based wind farm, opened last spring,and is producing enough electricity with 10 turbines to power about 6,000 homes. But it had been delayed since1996, when a University of Massachusetts study described its site as "anexcellent wind resource."

Overall, theproject was delayed by proposed anti-wind bylaws of nearby towns and lawsuitsthat prompted the state Executive Office of Energy & EnvironmentalAffairs to intervene. It found after alengthy study that the delays associated with local and state permittingprocesses imposed unreasonable costs for the project.

"I hope that the effort to streamline the permittingprocess for developers suggests a trend." - Rep. Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket)

Testimony beforethe Committee throughout the hearing was divided. Opponents, primarily from theregion, outnumbered proponents by a 5-1 margin. It repeated the Committee's experience in the firsthearing, and was not unexpected. Testifiers included: BarbaraKates-Garnick, Energy Undersecretary for that state agency. She wassubstituting for Executive Secretary Richard Sullivan, in Washington withGovernor Patrick to accept a federal award as themost energy-efficient state in the country. She told the Committee that thestate supports the legislation. "There is nothing in this bill that will permit a project to go forwardwithout local support.

"We cannotafford to  allow those who are fundamentally and physically opposed towind energy per se to thwart the will of the great majority of residents,"she said.

In response to aquestion from Representative Sarah Peake (D-Provincetown), Steven Clarke, Assistant Secretary for Energy for the state, said, "It is very hardto estimate the number of land-based turbines that wouldbe located on the Cape to meet our goal of 500 megawatts of wind power by 2020.But 25 percent of our objective will be onshore, the balance offshore."

Peake emphasizedin her remarks, which were echoed by Representative Cleon Turner (D-Dennis) that "many of my constituents are concerned aboutkeeping our natural beauty andskyline." Considerable applause greeted those remarks.

Asked byRepresentative Timothy Madden (D-Nantucket), where in the legislation arestatements that the final word in siting decisions will be stated bymunicipalities, Clarke assured him that thelegislation is committed to establish uniform standards, and that towns candevelop their own standards if they prefer. "I hope," said Madden,"that the effort to streamline the permittingprocess for developers suggests a trend."

"Your bills take only a wink and a nod at the problems." - Ann Canedy, Barnstable Town Councilor

Ann Canedy, aBarnstable Town Councilor, told the Committee she was opposed to thelegislation. "It's personal. The town has not taken a position. But Barnstabledoesn't need your legislation. We have our own standards for wind turbines andsolar. Your bills take only a wink and a nod at the problems," shedeclared.

Bourne TownAdministrator Thomas Guerino spoke for his Board of Selectmen, who he said areopposed to the proposed legislation. "These are not good bills ascurrently written," he said.

Dave Duffy, anOrleans Selectman and immediate past president of the Cape Cod Selectmen'sAssociation, said that the state's cities and towns need wind energy standards. "The bills addressthis, and they are welcome," he said. "But as they are presentlywritten, they are no improvement on our Orleans in place process."

First in line totestify was Neil Andersen of Falmouth, who was recognized by RepresentativeJohn Keenan (D-Salem), the Committee CoChair. Andersen and David Moriarty, also of Falmouth, cited the severephysical problems and medical concerns sustained  by residents of theseveral neighborhoods nearest to the three turbines that have been built in their town. Hecondemned his town administration "for short-cutting the process forreviewing the standards. We've had no voice in these decisions," hecomplained.

Senator DanWolf (D-Harwich) asked a representative of the Conservation Law Foundation,who testified, "Does this legislation in any way remove the authority of alocal community to say, 'No'?"  The affirmativeanswer clearly did not reassure most of the people in the auditorium.

CapeCodToday.com welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on CapeCodToday.com.