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Sleeker wind permits proposed; House bill critics urge local control.

Byline: Steve LeBlanc

BOSTON - Massachusetts House lawmakers are weighing a bill designed to streamline the permitting process for wind energy facilities, over the objections of critics who say the bill strips local control of the projects.

The push to increase the number of wind turbines in Massachusetts has been frustrated by opposition to the projects.

The state's biggest proposed wind facility, the 130-turbine Cape Wind project, has battled eight years of lawsuits and government reviews. U.S. Interior Secretary Ken Salazar gave final approval in April to the project, which would be the nation's first offshore wind farm, but it still faces legal challenges.

Rep. Barry Finegold, House chairman of the Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy, said the goal of the bill is to overhaul that permitting system, which he described as "long, costly and often futile."

"We currently make it easier to permit a large fossil fuel power plant than we do a wind energy facility," said Finegold, D-Andover.

"Even communities who want a wind energy facility have had trouble attracting developers because of so much red tape."

Finegold rejected criticism that the bill strips away local control. He said the bill puts the final regulatory say over projects in the hands of local boards.

"If a local board says, `No,' game over," he said. "The only option for a developer is to appeal to courts."

Backers also said the bill would help create hundreds of jobs and increase the state's wind power capacity to 100 megawatts by 2012. The state produced

9 megawatts of wind power last year.

But critics said if lawmakers really wanted to ensure local control over projects, they would let voters have the final say.

Rep. Denis Guyer proposed an amendment that would require a city or town to schedule a referendum on a project.

"Don't you think that the people in the community should have a vote?" said Guyer, D-Dalton.

The House rejected the amendment on a 86-61 vote.

Harry Dodson, a landscape architect from Ashfield, said the bill erodes the ability of cities and towns to regulate their land.

Dodson said two wind farms are proposed in his town - one that would install three turbines, another that would install five to ten turbines up to 425 feet tall.

"Each industry sees itself as the savior of the environment, but we don't think that one of the core elements of Massachusetts democracy should be taken away regardless of how beneficial the industry is," said Dodson, 58. "We think local review makes projects better."

Gov. Deval Patrick, who has pushed to dramatically increase renewable energy use in Massachusetts, including wind power, said the bill is designed to get rid of red tape, not local control.

"It's all local control," Patrick told reporters Tuesday. "What it does is instead of having six or seven different layers of appeal, there are two or three. There is no imposing of a site on a local community by the state."

Patrick pointed to a proposed 20-turbine wind power project in the Western Massachusetts town of Monroe.

The project, which could produce up to 30 megawatts of electricity, was stalled for six years by litigation before a Supreme Judicial Court ruling last week cleared a path for construction of the Hoosac Wind project.

"That's exactly the kind of thing that sends the wrong message," Patrick said.

The Senate has approved its own wind energy siting bill. If the House approves its bill, both versions must be reconciled into a single bill before being sent to Patrick's desk.

ART: PHOTO

PHOTOG: T&G Fike Photo/RICK CINCLAIR

CUTLINE: People sit in the shade to watch as a rotor is installed in May on a new wind turbine behind Narragansett Regional High School in Templeton. Wind turbine projects are also are under way or being discussed in other Central Mass. communities including Lancaster, Douglas, Auburn, Charlton and Worcester.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Jul 14, 2010
Words:648
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