Testimony by Dr. Wayne Klug on the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, 9/7/11
Senators and Representatives, thank you for this opportunity to address you.
I’d like to begin with a word about my background: I’ve been an environmental activist for 25 years; I’ve spearheaded successful organizing campaigns against housing and commercial developments that threatened habitat, historical sites, and vistas in both eastern and western Massachusetts. As a member of the Sierra Club, I’ve long supported the development of alternative energy, and am now looking into placing solar panels on my roof.
At Berkshire Community College, where I teach and have served as MassPIRG faculty advisor for 15 years, I co-created the school’s recycling program, this year ranked third most effective college program in the state and 26th in the nation. And incidentally, I usually vote Democratic.
I bother to tell you all this not because I’m running for office, but because I’d like to establish the “green” credentials necessary to raise a caution about industrial-scale wind energy—alone among all forms of alternative energy—which the legislation we’re discussing today hopes to promote.
The attractive and comforting image of majestic wind turbines turning gracefully against the sky, generating clean, limitless energy—seemingly all benefit and no cost—begins to tarnish as we hear about particulars that neither wind developers nor government agencies have so far cared to discuss.
For example, we hear about the fragmentation of wildlife habitat by mile-long stands of 50-story turbines whose sound and strobe effects, like giant scarecrows, drive away most species, while achieving an alarmingly high rate of outright bird and bat kills.
We hear about the turbines’ high-frequency noise—and its inaudible low-frequency counterpart, called “infrasound”—that creates headaches, vertigo, and elevated blood pressures among humans living within 1.5 miles on level, and 2 miles or more on mountainous, terrain. We hear about an accumulating number of such accounts from residential areas as far-flung as western Pennsylvania, northern Maine, Denmark and New Zealand, and we learn of studies confirming this cluster of symptoms—now dubbed “wind turbine syndrome”—by physicians and researchers working independently in New York and Australia, and on the staffs of a Swedish university and of Minnesota’s Department of Public Health, among others.
We hear about once-rural, now-industrialized, landscapes, of particular concern in areas of natural beauty whose economies, like those of the Berkshires and the Cape, depend on tourism. We hear about turbine-induced forest fires and ice-throws of a half-mile, responsible last winter for the closing of a parking lot at Massachusetts Maritime Academy, where windshields were being smashed by thrown ice. We hear about declining property values and even abandoned homes that no one will buy.
And—the kicker, from a policy point of view—we hear about the undependable and intermittent nature of wind-generated electricity, requiring back-up from conventional power plants ramping up and down to meet fluctuations in wind supply, and therefore releasing, in some cases, more carbon into the atmosphere than they do when running at an even rate.
Finally, we learn that, despite a proliferation of wind plants in Europe and Asia, and a growing number in the U.S. and Canada, no conventional power plant has yet been taken offline on their account, on any continent.
Disillusionment sets in; the picture begins to look like all cost and no benefit.
Well, clearly, the jury is still out on this form of energy—and these are important questions for the jury to decide—but meanwhile the development of wind energy proceeds at an increasing pace. Two weeks ago, the editor of The Vineyard Gazette, known for her moderate views, described what she called “alternative energy’s Wild West”. This reminded me of an earlier comment by U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, formerly Connecticut’s Attorney General, who described the rush to develop industrial wind energy as “lawless”.
Undoubtedly, the promoters of WESRA would argue that their bill will bring more law and order to this process, but I would argue just the opposite. I would argue that despite its invocation of “standards”, the bill will actually contribute to lawlessness. Why would I say that?
First, the bill would deny local planning, zoning, conservation, and health boards any meaningful control over decisions about if and where a wind plant could be constructed in their community. Instead, a local “wind siting board” would be appointed (not elected) and could waive all by-laws and regulations—not to mention Town Meeting votes—in order to grant a permit. This strikes me as lawless.
In the altogether likely event that a permit is granted, neither abutters nor town officials could appeal to anyone other than the state’s Energy Facilities Siting Board (another appointed body) that’s earned a reputation for granting permits. But in the unlikely event that a permit is denied, the developer could appeal to Superior Court—a course of action that the bill bars opponents from taking.
So in this bill we have the Commonwealth of Massachusetts streamlining a process by which political appointees expedite development proposals at a time when caution is warranted, and defending the right of court appeal for developers while denying it to citizens and their elected officials. These are exactly the kinds of circumstances that inspired Senator Blumenthal’s comment. I wonder if the authors of this bill are familiar with the concept of “due process”? Are they familiar with “equal protection”?
A person doesn’t have to be against wind power to find this bill alarming. By sidelining almost two centuries of zoning and environmental laws—laws created by you and your predecessors—that have made Massachusetts a role model for other states, WESRA attacks head-on the finest democratic traditions of the Commonwealth. This is lawless.
Unlike some of the other speakers I’ve heard this afternoon, I don’t believe that this bill can be fixed or revised; it cannot be tweaked; it can only be rejected. In order to do that, this committee must report it out unfavorably. This will take the independence of mind that characterizes true leadership, and brings others to your point of view, not by political pressure, as an earlier speaker mentioned, but by persuasion.
To close, let me acknowledge that my interest in this bill is not entirely academic. It’s been a 15-year labor of love in which I’ve restored a beautiful 18th-century farmhouse—my home—and developed a small business at the top of Hoosac Ridge, where a 16-turbine wind plant is being considered. Because of all I stand to gain with your support, and all I stand to lose without it, I very much hope that each of you is able to exercise that independence of mind and true leadership.
Andrew Wells testifies at the hearing on 9/7/11, first, satirically, as a wind developer:
On behalf of all wind developers I want to thank the Legislature for passing the WESRA bill. When my compatriot Paul Gaynor, the CEO of First Wind was made the governor’s wind energy advisor in 2009 we knew we were in like Flynn. I mean, wow! Here is the guy whose company told all those gullible abutters now suffering in Mars Hill Maine that they would hear no noise from the turbines the company planned to erect there. Governor Patrick courageously brought Mr Gaynor into the fold and asked him to help the state realize its goal of 2000 MW by 2020. It was was clear that the state needed a take no prisoner’s approach in dealing with the likely outcry from all of the nimby abutters once they realized what was in store for them. I must confess that I had no idea though that we would actually get to write the legislation itself. Thanks Ken Kimmell! Needless to say, we are thankful for the governor’s past experience in the corporate world so that he understood us perfectly when we told him that it is possible to have too much democracy, especially local democracy. It certainly helped that the places we planned for the turbines had no political power on Beacon Hill. After all, one thing every good politician knows, its easy to encourage another’s sacrifice when you’ve got no skin in the game. The governor knew that by the time the rubes and nincompoops out west caught on, it would be too late and we’d have our megawatts. God Bless turbines, god bless the production tax credit, and god bless America!
I want to give a special thanks to the Beacon Hill environmental groups. CLF, Audubon, and Sierra Club. You guys were great. By being big picture people and focusing exclusively on the science of global warming but not at all on the specifics of siting, we knew you’d support any legislation that promised to put more turbines on the ground. You made willingness to carve up mountaintops seem like an act of great virtue. We must destroy it to save it! Brilliant, and effective. You made GE a paragon of corporate virtue. Who cares about PCBs, they make turbines! I want to give a shout out to the Trustees of Reservations, who had the brilliant idea of becoming a wind developer themselves. When you proposed that utility scale turbine in Hingham less than a thousand feet from a senior assisted living facility, I thought maybe that was pushing the envelope a little too far. But I see that I was wrong. You helped others see that no sacrifice in the cause of promoting your virtue was too great. Besides, aren’t those people old? They’ve had their share of good years. Time to take one for the team!
None of this would have been possible without the visionary work of people like former Secretary Ian Bowles. Ian was our Dick Cheney, a man of no apologies for whom all roadblocks to renewable goals had one cause, the dreaded nimby. Ian helped stiffen up the executive administration spines when they were threatening to go wobbly once the noise problems in Falmouth started getting press. Hell, Ian was from Falmouth. If he didn’t care about the problems in his own hometown you shouldn’t either.
Thank you to MTC and CEC for throwing ratepayer dollars at all of those fatally flawed projects and for hiring consultants like the UMass Wind Energy Center and Tech Environmental to perform feasibility studies that said otherwise. Want to put turbines close to homes in quiet residential areas! Call these guys. For the right price, they’ll reliably overinflate your background sound, underestimate turbine noise and convince you that project impacts will be minimal. Besides, Jim Manwell says that he likes the sound of turbines so you should too!
As I look out from shining turbine to shining turbine, I see that our job here is done. But the work is incomplete. Onward to the state and National forests!
Andrew Wells testifies at the hearing on 9/7/11 as himself:
I have been studying wind siting standards since 2006, first as a member of a wind turbine bylaw committee in the Cape town of Eastham, and more recently, as the chair of a bylaw committee in the hilltown of Ashfield. It is clear from the evidence that there is a growing problem worldwide with individuals living near to turbines suffering from a range of adverse health effects, primarily due to noise impacts. Noone who would support this bill should do so without first taking the time to visit with Falmouth abutters, as I have, to see the depth and scope of this suffering. The wind industry’s callous response has been to deal with the problem by denying that it exists. Incredibly, instead of developing protective siting standards, the Patrick administration has chosen to ally itself with industry, continuing to push poorly sited projects, all the while scapegoating its own citizens, slurring them as nimbys as though they were the cause of the problem. Make no mistake: The bill before the legislature represents the triumph of corporate cronyism, a bill written by and for the wind industry. With its passage, I assure you that the problems experienced by the good folks suffering in Falmouth will be replicated in a dozen other communities across western MA
It is disingenuous for bill proponents to argue that passage will lead to responsible siting. How does it follow that the same forces who for years have ignored science for political opportunism will somehow magically be transformed into responsible decision makers? This state is completely out of step with best practices of other countries that have shown far more regard for the well-being of its citizens. Consider for example, the setback standard of 2km (1 ¼ miles) recently enacted in the Australian state of Victoria, a policy described by its Planning Minister as “restoring certainty and fairness “ to the process. Contrast that with the recent comments by the state’s director of wind energy development, EEA employee Steven Clarke, who defends setbacks in the range of a thousand feet as “robust siting standards” Once again, politics trumps science.
Do not adopt the lazy morality of Beacon Hill environmental groups who, in the name of climate change, have adopted an end justifies the means type of thinking in which adverse impacts to abutters are embraced as the necessary cost of climate mitigation. A caring community should reject the idea that erecting turbines close enough to homes to cause sleep disturbance to abutters, no matter how small their numbers might be, is in any measure a ‘sustainable ‘solution.
As for the ludicrous assertion that this bill does not take away local control, I realize that many of these environmental lobbyists don’t get out of Beacon Hill much, but they should know that here in western MA many of our communities are still governed, as they have been for well over two hundred years, by the New England town meeting, in which zoning decisions require a 2/3 vote. Summarily dispensing with town meeting and empowering small boards to waive all previous zoning decisions of the town is not local control as we have practiced it for generations Also, it is entirely predictable that any municipal decision rejecting a wind project that meets the statewide siting standards will be overridden and approved. Given their track record, I have little faith that these standards will be protective of local communities and their citizens.
In conclusion, it is obvious that the Patrick Administration has chosen to sacrifice its own citizen’s well-being in order to advance its political objectives of 2000 megawatts by 2020, and it’s hoping to do this by consolidating its power and circumscribing local control. The Democratic majority in the legislature has a clear choice. Does the little guy still matter or is kowtowing to the lobbyists and corporate captains to be this party’s identity?
Dale LaBonte’s written testimony:
Testimony for S1666, H1775, H 1959 “An Act Relative to comprehensive siting reform for land based wind projects” before the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy. September 7, 2011 Jiminy Peak conference center
Brimfield’s experience with an industrial wind developer highlights the problems a statewide siting bill would produce for rural communities.
Brimfield is in a dead news zone. To predict the likelihood of a 10-turbine, 20-30 MW project, would have required investigative news reporting into commercial wind developers and their plans. What little was known about First Wind appeared last year when it filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission in advance of its bid for an Initial Public Offering. But Brimfield, sandwiched about equal distance from the second and third largest cities in the state, receives press treatment only for controversies, the three outdoor antique markets, and natural disasters. And certainly no reporter anticipated the dual problem of favorable wind modeling and absent density reporting.
The state EEA Wind Site Screening Tool shows map layers with wind resources prominently outlined in purple. West Mountain appears to be one of the higher energy areas. The screening tool shows a layer where 1000-foot residential setbacks are displayed for towns that have registered their information. Frugal Brimfield saw no reason to spend tax dollars for this purpose, so instead of extensive yellow buffer zones, the map shows only topographic features. It looks as though nobody lives there, and from that map there is no way to tell that 80 households were located within three-quarters of a mile of the proposed turbine complex.
The prospect of 10 450-foot-high, 2.5 MW wind turbines (there is still no other wind project that tall in the state) being sited in Brimfield was so unanticipated that when local news sources carried a press release issued by First Wind announcing an informational meeting, it was easy to assume the topic would be either the ornamental wooden windmill always in need of repair on the church lawn, or the small tri-community turbine being proposed as a source of electricity for one or more of the towns of Brimfield, Holland and Wales.
Even members of the two boards who acted to approve the preliminary meteorological tower (met pole) later seemed unaware of the implications of their actions. Overturning the Building Inspector/Zoning Officer’s denial of a permit, the Zoning Board of Appeals granted the permit to erect the 60-meter (190-foot) met pole. The Conservation Commission brought no finding against the pole’s siting. Members of both boards failed to alert town residents that a large-scale project was being brought to this community of about 3400.
By the time of the June 29, 2010 informational meeting, it was much too late for town residents to meet the 30-day period during which they might have objected to the zoning board’s January 2010 action allowing the met pole. First Wind’s proposal to the Board of Selectmen of a “payment in lieu of taxes” offer was the first negotiation to be brought to public attention. Fortunately the selectmen held a public hearing on accepting a grant from First Wind to support a financial review. That was met by a resounding rejection of the turbine project by town residents on September 29, 2010.
All this occurred in a town where the boards welcomed citizen input throughout the process. But the leases with landowners had been filed with the county registry of deeds a full year before anyone not involved with the project knew about it. Wind developers have become notorious for their non-disclosure agreements, muzzling public discussion of commercial turbine projects.
All this also occurred in a town with a community access television program that was about to get underway with sophisticated technology and available volunteers who began to get the word out to town residents. Being able to view monthly meetings, both live and rebroadcast, allowed members of boards to be updated on actions of other boards. But even more, it allowed town residents to keep up with events that were moving rapidly in the late summer, as First Wind hurried to get a proposal going in time to quality for expiring Federal wind energy subsidies.
The long-time residents of Brimfield doubted the need for an organized opposition to the First Wind proposal. It was their firm belief that despite the exception made for the met pole, the project would never be allowed simply because there is an existing height restriction on “structures” in the town bylaws. It became clear that they either had not heard of the WESRA bill that had just missed passage in 2010, or they doubted its chances of becoming law.
The current bills have “emergency” status and will go into force as soon as signed, effectively gutting all town bylaws. The language is clear: The Local Wind Energy Permitting Board (LWEPB) may “waive zoning and non-zoning requirements of the municipality’s local laws, regulations, policies or other regulatory requirements.” Delay for study, unless approved by the developer, is not an option. Whether the local permitting board does or does not act on the proposal, after 120 days the proposal receives a “constructive approval” automatically.
The entire municipal side of the act is governed by appointed members (unless a town happens to elect members of the planning board, the Conservation Commission, and the zoning board of appeals, from which pool the LWEPB is selected). The entire state side of the act is governed by appointed members, where the only elected component is the governor, who selects the members of the Department of Energy Resources and the energy siting board.
The avenues of appeal are skewed to help developers. A project that is rejected can be appealed to the courts while an objecting community member, if they have standing at all, can only appeal to the State Energy Siting Board—which has never rejected a power plant proposal.
The playing field being established by this bill has one beneficiary. It is the large industrial wind developer. It is not the community, not the electric consumer, not the person concerned about greenhouse gas emissions, not the economic development proponent and not the state of Massachusetts. It is certainly not benefitting any other enterprise capable of generating electricity from wind on a home or neighborhood scale.
If the siting act had been passed last year, by now—with or without town approval—First Wind would be starting its 3 months of daily blasting and its destruction of the historic Steerage Rock landscape in a quest for big tax subsidies and minimal electricity production. Instead, with vociferous citizen input, First Wind withdrew its proposal, telling town officials that there is insufficient wind. Meanwhile Brimfield residents keep a skeptical eye open for the next siting proposal—on the next ridge, in the next town, possibly back on West Mountain. If the siting act passes, no wind resource area will be spared the noise, strobing, sub-audible sound, or disruption of the ecosystem these industrial plants portend.
Industrial wind thrives on secrecy and sweetheart deals like the siting act. The members of the Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy Committee must weigh the needs of the Commonwealth against the interests of one administration and one industry.
I urge you to look unfavorably upon the siting act and respect the process of local control over local development.