Public comment sought on responsible clean energy development

A field of solar panels off Daniel Shays Highway (Route 202) in Orange. Residents have until Friday to submit their input regarding the process by which clean energy projects are permitted in Massachusetts.

A field of solar panels off Daniel Shays Highway (Route 202) in Orange. Residents have until Friday to submit their input regarding the process by which clean energy projects are permitted in Massachusetts. STAFF FILE PHOTO/SHELBY BROCK

By DOMENIC POLI

Staff Writer

Published: 03-13-2024 6:26 PM

Residents have until Friday to submit their input regarding the process by which clean energy projects are permitted in Massachusetts.

An online survey is soliciting public comment on how the state should protect health, safety and community livability as well as the natural environment as the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting works to provide recommendations for reforms to remove barriers to responsible clean energy infrastructure development in Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey formed the commission by executive order in September, with an eye toward reaching the state’s net zero climate target by 2050.

The survey can be found at tinyurl.com/r3vd6bwu. People are also invited to visit tinyurl.com/36b7n4y9 to sign an electronic letter to the commission.

Michael DeChiara, who chairs Shutesbury’s Energy & Climate Action Committee and sits on the town’s Planning Board, fears the recommendations will remove local control and regional oversight for the siting of renewable energy facilities and certain utility infrastructure.

“The issue is ... local communities know best how to site,” DeChiara said. “If you want to protect the ecosystem, if you want to protect drinking water, if you want to protect agricultural land … it can only happen with local permitting.”

Similarly, Buckland resident Janet Sinclair, co-founder of the environmental advocacy organization Save Massachusetts Forests, said she is worried the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting’s recommendations — which have not yet been made public — will call for the elimination of home rule as it pertains to siting and permitting for clean energy infrastructure development. Home rule allows cities and towns to enact their own legislation on various issues, as long as it does not conflict with federal or state law.

“This is a really old, important aspect of Massachusetts politics — home rule,” she said, adding that the idea dates back centuries.

When Healey swore in the commission’s more than two dozen members in September, she outlined some expectations.

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“We’ve got to get going on this, and you all as a commission are tasked with a few things. One, reducing permitting timelines — I’m serious about that. Reducing permitting timelines. Figure that out, we’ve got to get that done,” Healey told commissioners at the time.

The governor also said in September that she expects recommendations from the commission by spring.

“I know we can expect a strong slate of recommendations that will help us deliver clean, affordable energy to communities and all the economic growth that comes along with that,” she said. “There is no state better situated than Massachusetts to make the most of this, but it’s going to require a lot of work and a lot of effort, and that is what I am personally asking of each and every one of you over the coming weeks and months.”

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-930-4120. Information from State House News Service was used in this article.