Conflicts in Siting Wind Energy Facilities: The Massachusetts Wind Energy Siting Reform Act

Mike Gildesgame
Thursday, August 1, 2013

Introduction

Massachusetts has a history of strong environmental protection, conservation and innovation in alternative energy development. The proposal to implement the land-based Wind Energy Siting Reform Act (WESRA) would seem to have complimented that trend; however the legislative process of WESRA highlighted competing values and interests and brought to light strong disagreements over key aspects of siting land-based wind turbines. This paper examines the intent, expectations and processes undertaken by the administrative and legislative actors promoting the bill, the role of non-governmental organizations in affecting the discussion, and considers whether a more coordinated planning and review process might have provided a more positive public experience and a better outcome for the bill.

New England states have developed numerous laws and policies promoting the development of alternative energy generation sources by providing incentives, regulating the location and operation of wind energy projects, and setting goals for increasing their contribution to meeting the region’s electric demand. These laws and policies share the objectives of increasing alternative energy sources and diversifying state energy portfolios while reducing fossil fuel use and impacts. In addition, as New England is a substantial emitter of greenhouse gasses, regional reductions in fossil fuel energy generation are significant in the context of global climate change. Regional efforts also are considered to be important as the federal government has yet to act, and does not appear to be ready to do so in the foreseeable future. In order to address these issues, New England states have joined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) that promotes implementation of energy conservation programs and the reduction in fossil fuel generation and the resulting decrease in emission of atmospheric pollutants. Wind and solar energy are seen as alternatives with the potential to benefit the regional economy and environment by augmenting or replacing fossil fuel use.

In 2008, the Massachusetts Legislature passed some of the most progressive environmental laws in the nation, including An Act Relative To Green Communities (Green Communities Act or GCA, Chapter 169, Acts of 2008) and the Global Warming Solutions Act (Chapter 298, Acts of 2008). These laws placed the Commonwealth at the forefront of state and federal efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide incentives and support for the development of alternative energy sources in an effort to move toward a greener energy sector and economy. 

Download the full PDF of "Conflicts in Siting Wind Energy Facilities: The Massachusetts Wind Energy Siting Reform Act" at the right.