The permitting process for wind turbines has been hotly debated in the Berkshires.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The state is again looking to develop guidelines to regulate the siting of land-based wind power facilities.
The Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs launched an inter-agency working group to develop new guidelines on wind permitting.
The agency, featuring representatives from the Department of Energy Resources, Clean Energy Center, Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Public Utilities, is tasked with developing guidelines for permitting wind projects.
Wind siting became a hot topic in the Berkshires when the Patrick administration and legislators proposed laws that would form a state group to oversee permitting, streamlining the process that currently has input from the local, regional and state levels. A number of sites identified for wind turbines were along ridgelines in the Berkshires.
However, the proposals fell to the wayside after fierce opposition from the public, claiming they removed local control.
Now, two years later, the state is again investigating wind siting practices with this new committee. The administrative committee plans to hold public hearings in January and issue a guidance proposal in the spring.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission is issuing comments on the process opposing the Department of Public Utilities from taking control of the permitting and any reduction in the 100 MW threshold for the DPU to become involve for fear of that move circumventing local control. Additionally, BRPC it would like the Department of Fish and Game, Department of Public Health, the Massachusetts Municipal Association and local planning commissions to be included in the group.
BRPC members also reiterated their stance that the permitting process should not eliminate local control and is raising questions of whether this group will develop laws or simply guidelines for municipalities.
"Municipalities should also have the right and the authority to develop stricter regulations and standards," said BRPC Planner Lauren Gaherty.
Gov. Deval Patrick has set a goal of developing 2,000 MW of wind energy by 2020 with land-based wind being about 25 percent of it. However, the locations tend to face opposition. The 2011 push was opposed because of the elimination of local input, so BRPC is again wary of the upcoming process.
"The administration has been strongly trying to push state control of the permitting these facilities," BRPC Executive Director Nathaniel Karns said.
As for the DPU taking control, Karns worries about putting permitting under their control because of the department's "formal" nature. Karns said the DPU typically permits large energy plants or pipelines and opposing a process in that arena could become expensive for small municipalities or advocacy groups.