Last summer, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs announced an initiative to support municipalities, developers, and other stakeholders in improving the siting process for wind energy projects in Massachusetts. Part of that initiative was a directive that the Massachusetts Department of Public Utilities (DPU) investigate best practices and develop guidance for siting wind energy facilities. On October 31, the DPU formally started an investigation (docketed as D.P.U. 13-165) to solicit public input and develop wind siting guidance. With legislative action in Massachusetts on wind energy siting uncertain, the guidance that results from this DPU proceeding could significantly affect the future of land-based wind energy projects in Massachusetts, from small, distributed, behind-the-meter projects to large wind farms interconnected to the transmission system.
Successfully siting wind energy projects in a densely populated state like Massachusetts is challenging for many reasons. High profile local opposition that has emerged in response to operating wind energy facilities in Massachusetts – generally based on noise and health concerns – has increased perceived uncertainty and risk associated with such projects, making it even more difficult to develop wind energy here.
Carefully crafted siting guidance for future projects, developed with input from stakeholders, could improve the situation. Although even the best siting policies would not eliminate all of the concerns of nearby property owners or all of the uncertainties that face developers, there is still a benefit to having clear ex ante standards, particularly if stakeholders have bought into those standards. The public DPU process provides an opportunity to generate standards with a stamp of credibility and stakeholder buy-in.
Even though D.P.U. 13-165 will result in in guidance rather than enforceable policy, the resulting guidance will be important for future wind energy projects for two reasons. First, municipalities may adopt the recommendations of the DPU in local ordinances and thereby give them legal force. Second, guidance on wind energy siting from the DPU is likely to be viewed as credible and could be persuasive with respect to disputes that might arise even in municipalities where the guidance is not formally adopted.
The DPU has asked for comments and has specifically identified a large set of potential issues that could be addressed in siting guidance, including: maximum turbine heights, setback requirements, noise, flicker, wildlife impacts, ice throw, construction impacts, property value impacts, decommissioning concerns, and procedural requirements . The DPU has also posed specific questions and has asked commenters to identify best practices in other jurisdictions. The ultimate success of any guidance that results from this process will depend on the degree to which stakeholders participate. Comments must be filed by December 6, 2013.
UPDATE: the DPU has extended the deadline for comments to February 6, 2014.