Expedites Permitting Process; Ensures Local Control
BOSTON – The Massachusetts Legislature today filed a conference committee report that would require local approval for wind energy projects and expedite the permitting process of wind energy facilities.
“We’ve made serious commitments to renewable energy sources in Massachusetts, and this bill will allow us move more quickly toward our goals,” Senate President Therese Murray (D-Plymouth) said. “By getting a handle on the siting process and establishing clearly defined standards and efficiencies for implementing new technology, we will expedite efforts to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels.”
“As we seek to bring new sources of renewable energy to the Commonwealth, this legislation will make the permitting of wind energy projects more efficient while preserving local control over the authorization of wind energy facilities,” House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said. “This bill signals our commitment to clean energy while keeping the best interests of our communities in mind.”
“This bill streamlines the existing siting process to help the Commonwealth meet its renewable energy goals and decrease our dependence on traditional fossil fuels,” said Senator Michael Morrissey (D-Quincy), Senate Chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “It allows input and approval from local bodies and creates balanced and reasonable siting process timelines.”
"We are almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels for our energy needs here in the Commonwealth – a dependence that reduces our energy security and makes us vulnerable to rapidly increasing energy prices,” said Representative Barry Finegold, House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. “In passing the Green Communities Act of 2008 we made increasing local sources of renewable energy a priority, creating local green jobs, saving on energy costs, and reducing our impact on the environment.
“With the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act we are streamlining the permitting process for large-scale wind facilities in the Commonwealth - putting us on the right path to reaching these ambitious clean energy goals. This bill is good for jobs, it's good for the environment, and it's good for the economy."
The bill requires communities that have significant wind areas to form a single board to review wind projects. Regardless of any permits that are issued at the state or federal level, no building permit would be issued and no wind energy project would be built without local approval.
Upon receiving a decision from a local wind permitting board, a developer can go before the Energy Facilities Siting Board for a state permit.
The bill dictates that the Energy Facilities Siting Board has no authority to override a decision by a local board that denies a permit for a wind energy project. Only a court can overturn a decision by a local board that has denied a permit.
The bill also states that the Energy Facilities Siting Board can only modify a decision when a municipality approves a wind facility and an opponent claims that the local permit is not strict enough. Indeed, the Energy Facilities Siting Board is authorized only to make a local permit stricter but is not allowed to weaken a local decision.
While the legislation implements new standards for governing the permitting of wind facilities, these conditions are required to be at least as protective as existing state environmental laws.
The legislation preserves the ability for citizen groups to appeal a decision by the Energy Facilities Siting Board, whose decision can then be appealed to the Supreme Judicial Court.
The legislation continues the work started in the state’s landmark Green Communities Act of 2008. Under that law, a commission was charged with reviewing existing policies for locating renewable energy resources. This bill acts on the commission’s findings.