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State commission seeks faster approval of renewable energy projects, including wind landings

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A commission created by Gov. Maura Healey is recommending the state accelerate the approval of renewable energy projects and change the role of local communities in that process.

In a March 29 report, the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting recommended that state, regional, and local permitting for large renewable energy projects — including on-shore facilities for offshore wind — be consolidated into a single process led by the Energy Facilities Siting Board.

The plan would eliminate the separate permitting now done by local communities.

A Healey administration official said municipal jurisdiction would not change. That’s because developers already have the right to apply for state approval in lieu of local approval if they’ve been denied or unnecessarily delayed by a local board.

The commission’s proposed policy changes require state legislation.

If enacted as written, the policy would apply to any facilities needed to connect offshore wind to the grid — including new cable landings like the ones that have drawn objections from some residents in Barnstable and Falmouth.

The policy would also apply to other wind, solar, and anaerobic digestion projects of 25 megawatts or more, energy storage projects of 100 megawatts or more, transmission lines, and related facilities.

Cities and towns that now conduct their own permitting would instead participate in the state’s evaluation of a project and recommend conditions for the permit.

In a written statement, Healey said communities would be engaged early in the process, and she wants to see projects move faster.

“To meet our emissions limits, we need to build much more clean energy infrastructure, and we need to build it much quicker than we have to date,” she said.

An ad hoc group in Barnstable, Save Greater Dowses Beach, opposes the change. The group has been fighting the landing of offshore wind cables for New England Wind 2, formerly Commonwealth Wind.

Susanne Conley, chair of the group, said the recommendations would strip cities and towns of local control and mirror “the worst practices of industrialization.”

“We have said over and over that the grid should be rebuilt and/or upgraded where it already exists,” she said in an email.

Healey said speeding up renewable energy would help meet the state’s climate goals and attract related industries, such as climate technology.

The commission is suggesting a deadline of 15 months for decisions by the Energy Facilities Siting Board. Right now, there is no limit on how long permitting can take.

If the board were to issue no decision by the deadline, a project would be approved automatically.

The state would still strongly encourage developers to forge written agreements with host communities to provide public benefits commensurate with how the project would affect the community, a state official said.

Smaller projects would remain subject to local permitting.

Jennette Barnes is a reporter and producer. Named a Master Reporter by the New England Society of News Editors, she brings more than 20 years of news experience to CAI.