Senate president shifts on wind energy bill

Ralph Stewart

Legislation aimed at streamlining the siting of wind turbines has been languishing for most of 2011 on Beacon Hill after nearly reaching Gov. Deval Patrick’s desk last year.

A shifting position by one of the most senior lawmakers may be among the reasons, the State House News Service reported.

A year after Senate President Therese Murray mounted an aggressive but unsuccessful push to get the bill to the governor, the Plymouth Democrat is calling for stronger assurances that cities and towns would have local control to protect residential areas where wind turbines may not be wanted. “After continuing to learn more about local control and the siting decisions of individual towns, the Senate President expects that for any legislation to go forward, it must have clear language about local control and siting standards that protect residential areas,” said Murray spokesman David Falcone in a statement to the News Service.

Mr. Falcone noted that a key piece of the wind bill — permitting cities and towns to sell additional energy back to the grid — cleared the Legislature last year in separate legislation, and he emphasized that Ms. Murray supports wind energy as “part of our renewable energy mix.”

Governor Patrick last year was a vocal proponent of the siting reform bill, but the legislation has not been among his major talking points this year. Supporters of the bill say it’s critical to the state’s renewable energy and job creation hopes while opponents have ripped it as favoring one energy industry and as a threat to local control.

Last month, the Allen Farm off South Road in Chilmark erected a wind turbine that stands from its base to the tip of its highest blade at 149.5 feet.

Morning Glory Farm in Edgartown erected a similar-sized wind turbine in June 2010.

In both cases the turbines were not subject to local zoning regulations based on a state agricultural exemption that allows an applicant to bypass local zoning bylaws as long as more than 50 percent of the energy produced by turbines is used for commercial agriculture.