State Sens. Adam Hinds and Marc Pacheco visit Seth Nash of Blue Q on Monday afternoon, before the hearing. Nash is one of the private-sector businesses to install a photovoltaic array to power his business.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — State Sen. Marc Pacheco has chaired the Joint Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture and thought he had heard everything about the environment.
Until 11 years ago, when he saw Al Gore's documentary "An Inconvenient Truth."
"I saw the reality come to life on a movie screen," Pacheco said.
He signed up to become a "climate messenger" and went to a training in Nashville, Tenn. Focused on global warming — he was one of the few in politics chosen — and since then thousands of people throughout the world have gone through the seminar. He returned to Massachusetts and founded the Senate Committee on Global Warming & Climate Change.
The committee has helped shape Massachusetts' clean energy policy. Particularly, he helped usher in the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008, which set in law targets for the state to reduce greenhouse gases.
"The evidence is now in. We don't need to talk about what may be in the future, we can talk about what has happened," Pacheco said.
Massachusetts is leading the country in hitting its clean energy targets and clean energy has actually become an $11.8 billion industry, Pacheco said. He said 105,212 green jobs have been created, an increase of 75 percent from 2010, along with 6,714 new companies. In Western Massachusetts, there were 12,335 jobs created and 1,014 businesses.
But yet, there is still work to do. In the last year, Massachusetts showed a 5 percent change in temperature from the average and the severity of weather events has increased. He says there needs to be more done and there are a number of bills in the state Legislature right now that need vetting.
On Monday, he was in Pittsfield, one of nine locations on his Clean Energy Future Tour, to ask for the public's input and to help motivate people to get involved.
"This year will be a crucial year for us in the Legislature in terms of ensuring that we aren't going to go backward on solar. We want to continue to incentivize solar power in the state and also look at, hopefully, doing what we can to alleviate the net metering caps and make sure the RPS standards are really going to be something that utilities are going to have to deal with," Pacheco said.
"But without citizen support across the commonwealth, there is a lot of mischief behind the scenes from the fossil fuel industry not so interested in seeing these initiatives going forward."
For state Sen. Adam Hinds, the work is even more important now because of the shifting changes in energy policy on the federal level.
"We do feel these rapid changes in energy policy at the federal level that it is incumbent of the states to take on a lot of that — whether it is joining the Climate Alliance (a group of states committed to the Clean Power Plan) or understanding how states interact with each other and also this third category of the shifting of legislation we undertake in the state," Hinds said.
Pacheco said those pieces of legislation won't get to the governor's desk without the support of citizens. To get that, he spent 3 1/2 hours in the auditorium at Berkshire Community College fielding comments on how to shape the next phase of the state's energy policy and to gain some ideas for what else can be done.
It was his sixth hearing of the year and 40 people signed up to provide testimony, while others lined up after the names were exhausted to provide more.
"There is a lot of interest, not just here in the Berkshires but across the state," Pacheco said.
The first hour and a half of the meeting, however, was hijacked by anti-wind advocates from the Hoosac Wind Project. A group of neighbors in the Florida and Clarksburg area have been fighting against the 28.5-megawatt wind farm since before it even went online in 2012.
Larry Lorusso, of Clarksburg, said the turbines have been causing health concerns from sinus issues to heart disease to anxiety because of the vibrating sound echoing through the area.
"At times I feel like I am inside a drum," Lorusso said.
He said the state knows the noise is too loud but is looking the other way. Michael Farineny, of Florida, said he's spoken with every government official he could to mitigate the issues but to no avail. He said the system of testing for sound issues is "rigged" because the company is in charge of hiring the consultants, and setting the schedule for tests. The low-frequency noises are caused relationship issues, has torn apart the neighborhood, and forced people to abandon their homes.
"Do you know what it is like waking up and coming back to what used to be your dream home and seeing and hearing an industrial product invading your world when it was once peace and quiet?" Farineny said.
They were called one after another, reading pages of prepared remarks citing their studies, delving into detailed specifics. One woman held up a laptop to play a YouTube video of the sound of the turbines.
Pacheco attempted to move the meeting along, encouraging people to keep their remarks short. An hour and 15 minutes into the meeting, only six of the 40 signed up to speak had had a chance, and all but one of those were specifically calling for action against the Hoosac Wind Project.
The Taunton Democrat has heard similar issues before. He says with any type of renewable energy projects, there is often opposition. For wind, he said, he heard the same type of issues raised from those on Cape Cod, just slightly different details.
"It was very similar to the Cape hearing. The Cape was saying they had some bad experiences with some of the on-land wind that was deployed early on in the process. There are some people who live next to on-land wind sites that are very opposed to the continuation of on-land wind based on their personal experiences," Pacheco said.
"On the other hand, we've had people in other places down the Cape that are very supportive of on-land wind that also live close to those sites. The level of opinions on those things is diverse."
He said siting for any type of project gets complicated and the state can only work within its confines. He said state policies will bump against local or federal laws, or the Constitution, so there isn't a clear and easy way to create a siting process for differing projects.
"The problem is that some of it has to do with the constitutionality of some of the things the people would want," Pacheco said. "These issues would be simple if they were as simple to solve as they are proposed sometimes."
Those who oppose the Connecticut pipeline expansion understand the legal issues with that. State law has protected land for conservation but the federal government was able to override the Chapter 97 Conservation Restriction in favor of building the pipeline through Otis State Forest.
"It is not that easy to try to deal with. I couldn't agree more with the people I heard today about Article 97 for example. I am a big Article 97 proponent and support Article 97 to the hilt. Unfortunately, it is not constitutionally allowed based on some pre-emption on the federal level. Now our problem really is with the federal level," Pacheco said.
Rather, he doesn't want to see any additional fossil fuels shipping into the state and believes in going to 100 percent renewables.
Will Elwell, of Ashfield, is known for the cabin he has built to obstruct the construction of the natural gas pipeline. He said the overturning of Article 97 "should never have happened" and that, in a way, the law has created more areas for federally approved fossil fuel projects. He says when looking for the energy policy of the future, the state needs to "look at what happened recently."
"My concern is this could set a precedent for projects in other parts of the state," Elwell said.
The concerns on siting didn't just hinge on projects that have already been constructed or are under construction. Lenox Selectman Channing Gibson urged a slow down of wind projects as well.
"The science needs to be there, the cost-benefit analysis, whether or not you have a good place for the solar array or wind where you will actually get the income," Gibson said.
Gibson said the town had a proposal to build two turbines on Lenox Mountain with the intent to meet its energy needs. The Board of Selectmen appointed a committee to focus on the project and get a clear understanding of what it would all entail. It turned out, the consultants early on had "wildly overestimated the wind power and we wouldn't meet our financial goals."
The town was close to risking impacting its tourism industry through the damage to the mountainside for a project that wouldn't have yielded the expected results.
Local conservationist Rene Wendell said the mountaintops of the Berkshires are a driver of the tourism industry. He said people come to visit the Berkshires because of the natural beauty. He opposed wind projects that cause damage to them.
"These things are our economic engine and if you put turbines up there, you are taking a tremendous risk," Wendell said.
A woman from Buckland voiced concern about a proposed biomass plant there. She said the state laws are designed to promote the burning of timber.
Lauren Gaherty, a planner from Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, read testimony from her colleague Melissa Provencher, who heads the brownfields program. Provencher praised the state's Green Communities program, saying it provides funding to small towns, many which have "little capacity" to tackle energy issues on its own. And she pushed for an expansion of the MassSave program, which provides businesses with free energy audits that then incentives energy projects.
Provencher wants a more focused target on the small businesses that are the "backbone of our economy" and expansion to help lower-income families. Others in the audience agreed that renewable energy projects should be expanded to those who can't afford it now, with one woman suggesting to create a portal like the one for health insurance to connect even renters to affordable renewable projects.
Pacheco had already had improvements to the Mass Save program on his radar. He said audits are simply not being performed even when some one has requested one.
"It is getting more complicated actually get it done. You get on a wait list to get the audit done," Pacheco said. "We need to have a better, more efficient system to have it move forward. A lot of the utilities are still very attached to the energy customer and the rate structure that keeps them afloat."
Eleanor Tillinghast wants a focus on transportation emissions. She pushed for passenger rail to major cities and more frequent bus service so people don't have to drive to work.
"We also need high-speed fiber internet in all of our towns and not just the ones that can afford it so people can work from home," Tillinghast said.
She wasn't on an island with those thoughts either, as others raised their hands in support of her and others used their testimony to touch on transportation.
Others focused on expanding hydro-electric, expansion of research and development of new products and energy storage, ridding subsidies for oil and gas companies, and doubling down on solar.
Some of the other bills not brought up at the hearing include setting benchmarks for gas emission decreases for 2020 and 2030, which was part of a piece of legislation state Rep. Gailanne Cariddi had released before she died.
"There is significant legislation pending at the state house ... Unfortunately, the tragic loss of our colleague who is chairing the natural resource and agriculture committee, she played a leadership role this year in having released the comprehensive adaptive management bill, which deals with resiliency, and the 2030 and 2040 targets to ensuring we not only meet our 2020 and our 2025 requirements but that we establish 2030 and 2040 targets statutorily," Pacheco said.
He is also looking to "modernize the grid." He said other countries have decentralized their electric grids so that streetlights are off until a vehicle or person passes underneath. And when that person or vehicle is gone, the lights turn off.
"The technology is there, we don't have to wait for the technology. It is just a matter of political will to get it done," Pacheco said.
On man at the hearing, however, said he wouldn't want the state to go all in on addressing global warming because it may not exist. He said science has ultimately been proven wrong throughout history and he'd rather have a more "balanced position" in case global warming also pans out to be wrong.
Pacheco responded by saying that 97 percent of scientists have fallen on the side that global warming is real, so he's going to believe them.
"If I went to 100 doctors and 97 of them told me I better go in for a certain type of procedure or I may die and three of them told me I didn't have to worry about it, you'll be OK, I definitely know I would pay attention to the 97 doctors," he said.
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