IF A big power company wants to build a fossil-fuel plant in Massachusetts, the state has gone out of its way to simplify siting review. The Energy Facilities Siting Board consolidates the necessary paperwork into one permit that is less susceptible to endless appeals.
Unfortunately, this route is offered only to power plants that generate 100 megawatts of power or more. As a result, land-based wind farms are left in the cold, forced instead to deal with countless appeals for years on end. The state’s poor wind-power climate is no secret to those in the renewable-energy business, who see “Massachusetts as a difficult state in which to pursue development,’’ a report commissioned by the state recently found. The Wind Energy Siting Reform Act could change that, and the Legislature should pass it in the coming session.
The attenuated approval process for wind development has swallowed or severely delayed even projects that received clearance from their host communities. The Hoosac Wind project in the towns of Florida and Monroe has languished for eight years, held up by countless appeals. Berkshire Wind in Hancock has been similarly plagued - it’s under construction but has now been in development for 10 years, hampered by lawsuits from abutters, as well as failed attempts to enact local anti-wind bylaws. The roadblocks reflect the disproportionate power of individual citizens, some motivated purely by not-in-my-backyard sentiments, to hold up projects for years.
These imbroglios hurt the state not just by depriving it of clean power. They also hamper efforts to make the Boston area a center of the wind industry. Overall, Massachusetts is on the right track - it placed behind only California on a recent energy efficiency state scorecard - but the current approach to wind development severely curtails the state’s renewable energy growth.
The proposed act would instruct the siting soard to establish statewide standards for appropriate locations for wind facilities, taking into account all existing regulatory concerns. On the local level, the law would create permitting boards to consolidate the countless local permits and applications into a single process without weakening existing regulations.
There were concerns that an earlier version of the bill would have tilted the balance of power too far in the direction of wind developers by giving the Commonwealth the power to overturn local zoning decisions. In response to these fears, wind supporters worked closely with the Massachusetts Municipal Association to rewrite the bill, and the current version ensures that if a municipality rejects a proposed wind farm, developers would have to look elsewhere. Otherwise, their only recourse would be the courts. If a municipality approves a project, opponents could still appeal to the siting board, but would be unable to launch more than one court appeal.
It’s a reasonable way to smooth the path for those interested in building up the state’s wind power capabilities, and to help make Massachusetts a force in the renewable-energy future.