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Wind power

Regional planners resist state utility regulators’ attempt to control turbine siting

The blades of wind-power generation are turning again, raising concerns of residents opposed to having windmills dot the landscape, and also those of regional planners criticizing an effort by the state Department of Public Utilities to issue siting “guidance” to communities and developers.

The Franklin Regional Planning Board’s Executive Committee is drafting a letter to the DPU critical of the agency’s move to develop “best practices” for wind power siting. The proposed letter by the board, as well as the Franklin Regional Council of Government’s Executive Board, follows comments already made by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

The Berkshire planning board filed comments in November saying, “We are puzzled as to why the DPU is taking the lead in the development of wind energy facility guidelines, as this agency does not have jurisdiction over the siting of energy generating facilities that generate less than 100 MW and thus is very unlikely to oversee the permitting of any land-based wind energy projects in the state. Furthermore, BRPC opposes any reduction in the 100 MW permitting threshold for DPU as a means of circumventing local control over renewable energy generation projects.”

The DPU’s proposal, for which the deadline on comments will expire Thursday, also drew criticism at a public hearing in Pittsfield that attracted nearly 100 residents — including some from Franklin County — criticizing the agency’s move as a backhanded way of getting around the controversial issue of land-based wind turbine siting and insisting that local control not be abrogated or circumvented.

Hearings were also held in Gardner, Hyannis, Gloucester and Boston.

Meanwhile, siting legislation has been re-filed by Rep. Frank Smizik, D-Brookline, and Sen. Barry Finegold, D-Andover, to institute comprehensive siting reform for land-based wind projects. The bills had hearings in December before the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. Residents who live near turbines accused renewable energy advocates of persistently pushing legislation to make it easier to permit land-based wind energy projects without acknowledging health effects. Environmentalists argued benefits of the renewable energy outweigh some of the negative impacts.

Similar legislation made it all the way through the House in 2010, but the Senate failed to finish work on the bill. Senators in favor of it attempted to get it passed during informal sessions, but it was repeatedly blocked by opponents during that summer. Supporters of that bill, including the Patrick administration, said it would have helped expedite wind-based turbine projects while preserving the ability of municipalities to reject unwanted projects.

Lloyd Crawford of Hawley, who attended last week’s 3 1 / 2-hour DPU hearing in Pittsfield, told The Recorder, “There’s been a widespread sentiment that as a result of the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act failing to get through the Legislature, the Patrick administration is looking at alternate ways to take control of the siting of wind turbines. It’s hard to know whether that would actually come to pass; they say it won’t. But I think that everybody in that room was suspicious of what the agenda was here.”

An aide to Sen. Benjamin Downing, D-Pittsfield, who co-chairs the Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy Committee, said he is opposed to the legislation that has been filed.

A key deficiency cited in 2010 legislation was that it lacked clear standards for projects that should be sited in the state. Franklin Regional Planning Director Margaret “Peggy” Sloan said the DPU filing doesn’t have the breadth of composition that’s needed to develop credible standards. While its proposed “wind working group” that would set standards for municipalities, developers and others would include a variety of state agencies, it has no representation from towns, from the Massachusetts Municipal Association or regional planning agencies, Sloan says.

“The administration was wanting to pass the legislation before anyone knew what the siting standards were,” Sloan told the planning board last week. “The planning board went on record a number of times saying, ‘Before you ask our legislators to pass this legislation, you should tell us what the siting standards are.”

What’s needed are science-based standards set by “a broad-based group” that would look at a variety of issues in the same way as comprehensive state-sponsored 2010 biomass study by Manomet Center for Conservation Sciences. That’s what would help local officials when they are confronted by the possibility of a large-scale wind project.

Sloan called the DPU’s initiative on this subject “puzzling,” since its jurisdiction is for projects of more than 100 megawatts, while most land-based wind projects are “significantly smaller” than that. The 19-turbine Hoosac Wind project in Monroe and Florida, the third largest in the state, totals only 28.5 megawatts.

A Franklin County letter, which the executive committees plan to draft next week, would likely agree with the Berkshire letter in opposing any lessening of DPU’s 100-megawatt threshold and also call for siting standards to be developed by a broader coalition that represents the diverse interests and scientific evidence that should be considered when siting land-based wind projects

On the Web:

http://bit.ly/1n1zSxe.

You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, Ext. 269

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