It has long been understood that Massachusetts that the Commonwealth cannot meet its renewable energy goals with solar power alone. Solar is great, but really ratcheting up the percentage of energy supplied by renewable sources is going to take a big commitment to wind. In fact, Governor Patrick announced a goal of 2,000 MW of wind on- and off-shore in Massachusetts by 2020. There are currently 17 MW of wind power in Massachusetts.
Everyone knows the permitting travails – now, hopefully, over – that Cape Wind has faced. It is less known that on-shore wind has not been any easier to develop in Massachusetts. Yesterday, in Ten Local Citizen Group v. New England Wind, the Supreme Judicial Court released a major on-shore wind project from permitting appeal purgatory. The New England Wind project (perhaps still better known as Hoosac Wind) in Florida and Monroe, Massachusetts, was proposed in 2003. Not uncommonly for projects of this sort, the appeal that delayed project implementation had nothing to do with the merits of on-shore wind. It was an appeal over wetlands approvals needed for a gravel access road. By the time MassDEP issued a Superseding Order of Conditions, the opponents requested an adjudicatory hearing, the hearing was held, the ALJ issued a 78-page recommended decision rejecting the permit, the Commissioner issued a 31-page final decision affirming the permit and rejecting the ALJ’s recommended decision, the Superior Court affirmed the Commissioner, and the SJC affirmed the Superior Court, it was July 6, 2010.
I don’t know about you, but I’m out of breath just typing this history. There has to be a better way. It’s certainly safe to say that if wind projects – wherever located – take 7 or 8 years to permit, it’s going to be 2120, not 2020, before we have 2,000 MW of wind in Massachusetts. As some readers will be aware, the Administration has been supporting legislation to facilitate siting of wind power facilities in Massachusetts, but it hasn’t been enacted yet and the forces that make it difficult to obtain final permits in Massachusetts go far beyond the issues that would be addressed by the wind siting legislation.
For the lawyers among my readers, the decision breaks little ground. Yes, the Commissioner of DEP has considerable discretion in interpreting her own regulations. No, the ALJs who hear adjudicatory appeals and make recommended decisions are not entitled to any deference.