Falmouth Board Opposes Losing Local Control Over Renewable Energy Projects

The article “Falmouth Board Opposes Losing Local Control Over Renewable Energy Projects” by Noelle Annonen was published in The Falmouth Enterprise on Friday, 3/15/24 on pages 1 & 18 and is available online

To read the Select Board’s letter to the MA Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting RE: Town of Falmouth Comments in Opposition to the Removal of Local Control and Regional Oversight for the Siting and Permitting of Renewable Energy Facilities, click here

Below is the full text of The Enterprise article:

The select board opposes a state proposal that could limit local control over renewable energy project permitting and siting. The proposal aims to make it easier for renewable energy projects to move forward.

The board voted to send a letter of opposition to the state during its meeting on Monday, March 11.

In September Governor Maura T. Healey created the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting, which was directed to consult with climate, environmental and land use advocates, municipalities, energy utilities and others on how best to streamline the development of renewable energy projects. Such developments would help the state meet its goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030 and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

As part of that work, the commission posed 44 questions in an online survey to solicit public comment. The window for comment closes today, March 15. The questions touched on subjects such as who should have a seat at the table to decide where energy infrastructure will be located and whether the state should consolidate its permitting agency for renewable energy developers, and if so, what authority that agency should have.

The select board took particular issue on the latter point.

The proposed state permitting authority could resemble a reformed version of the existing Energy Facilities Siting Board, which reviews energy projects. Or it could take the form of a completely new authority, tasked with reviewing any and all energy projects. State and local governments could work with the agency by holding independent reviews of potential projects and submitting opinions to the consolidated state authority. But in the end, the state authority would have final say over projects.

“It’s a tricky question,” board member Douglas C. Brown said. “Because there is a need for [the state] to do some organizing and putting a board together would be good. But not at the expense of our local zoning.”

In its letter to the commission, the select board said it does not support any consolidated state permitting authority that would overrule local control over siting and permitting renewable energy projects. It adds that the current permitting system should stay with only limited changes, if any. It argued that local control is essential and should not be diminished.

“Town governments know best the local needs, appropriate locations and permitting procedures that best project public health and safety while also fostering the development of renewable energy facilities,” the board wrote.

The board recommended regional planning agencies receive better funding so they can assist local municipalities in reviewing renewable energy projects. The state should motivate local governments and their residents to use any experience they have regarding zoning, open-space plans and local development while reviewing any energy facilities in their areas, the letter states.

“Let municipalities, the majority of which have already proven their commitment as Green Communities, choose how they want to participate in a clean energy future,” the letter reads.

“Green Community” is a state designation that provides towns, like Falmouth, that have demonstrated they want to reduce emissions and transition to clean energy wherever possible with grant opportunities for such projects.

Mr. Brown suggested the board add a paragraph to the letter stating that Falmouth wants to build large solar projects but is unable to do so; new restrictions prevent large energy projects from overwhelming the existing grid’s energy capacity.

“I think what they need to do is fix the infrastructure on the grid before we start jumping ahead with taking away zoning restrictions,” Mr. Brown said. “This system is broken.”

Board member Robert P. Mascali said he was frustrated that the board was only reviewing a letter on March 11 when the comments were due by March 15 and wondered why members did not have more time to comment. Town manager Michael Renshaw said individual board members brought the idea of writing a letter to him when residents pointed it out to them.

“I think we’re lucky to have it brought before us at all,” Mr. Brown said. “[The public comment period] was not very well publicized.”
David Buzanoski, president of the Falmouth Heights – Maravista Neighborhood Association, said he likes the board’s comments on the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting. He added that the state is attempting to accelerate the process for renewable energy projects while diminishing both local and even federal input, such as from the Environmental Protection Agency.

“We’re opposed to the concept of diminishing the input from these agencies,” Mr. Buzanoski said.

Geralyn A. Schad, of Maravista, said that while she supports renewable energy, residents have an obligation to be good stewards of their town.

“We have to do it the right way,” Ms. Schad said.

The board unanimously voted to send the letter to the commission, including Mr. Brown’s suggestions in regard to upgrading the electric grid.