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Cape Wind seeks to skip permit wars

Pressing state for streamlined process

Email|Print| Text size + By Stephanie Ebbert
Globe Staff / November 22, 2007

Cape Wind Associates launched an effort yesterday to make an end run around local permit battles, asking a state energy panel to overrule a recent permit denial and to consolidate and approve the remaining eight state and local permits needed to build a wind farm in Nantucket Sound.

The bold maneuver comes six years after Cape Wind first proposed the 130-turbine project, which is awaiting a long-delayed federal environmental review.

While Cape Wind's new strategy could expedite the pace of development, it further alienated wind farm opponents, whose leader called the effort "underhanded."

"It's outrageous. Cape Wind is showing its true colors," said Susan L. Nickerson, executive director of the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound. "There's no more Mr. Nice Guy here."

In a sweeping, 32-page initial petition, Cape Wind asked the state Energy Facilities Siting Board to overturn last month's decision by the Cape Cod Commission denying a permit for local transmission lines for the project, because of what the commission said was a lack of information and cooperation from the developer.

Though Cape Wind's project is planned in federal water - outside the purview of state or local government - agencies such as the Cape Cod Commission hold sway over the construction of lines needed to carry power from the wind turbines to NStar connections on land.

The Siting Board has broad author ity to overturn the decisions of local agencies if it believes an energy project is in the public's interest.

It even has the authority to grant a composite permit - essentially awarding all remaining state and local permits - though it has never done so before, said Cape Wind's lawyer, David Rosenzweig.

Even if the Siting Board decision takes six months, that could shave months or years off the local approval and appeals process for Cape Wind.

Rather than fighting Cape Wind at each level of government, from the state Department of Environmental Protection to the conservation commissions in Yarmouth and Barnstable, opponents would have only one place to turn - the Supreme Judicial Court, which hears all Siting Board challenges, said Rosenzweig.

The Siting Board comprises six state officials and three appointees of the governor. While many fear political influence over its rulings, the board is charged with acting as an independent, adjudicatory panel.

Under former governor Mitt Romney, who opposed the wind farm, the Siting Board took an unprecedented length of time to review Cape Wind's transmission lines, but ultimately approved them in 2005.

But Cape Wind still needed a permit from the Cape Cod Commission for the same lines, because of the agency's role in reviewing large-scale development projects on the Cape.

Cape Wind is arguing that the Siting Board should overturn the commission's denial because it was inconsistent with the Siting Board's own ruling and the state's approval of the lines under the Massachusetts Environmental Policy Act.

That approval came in March from state Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Ian A. Bowles, who serves as chairman of the Siting Board.

In addition to federal approval and the permit from the commission, the wind farm still needs eight state and local permits, including a license and a water quality certification from DEP; highway access permits from the Massachusetts Highway Department; a license for a railway crossing from the Executive Office of Transportation; orders of conditions from the Yarmouth and Barnstable Conservation Commissions; and road opening permits from Yarmouth and Barnstable.

By trying to circumvent those local panels, Cape Wind is showing "complete disregard for the Cape and Island communities," said Nickerson.

"It essentially emasculates home rule and that's a principle our Massachusetts government is built on - local zoning, local health regulations, local bylaws," Nickerson said.

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