Pushing Aside Power Facility NIMBYs


Monday, the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting provided recommendations to Governor Maura Healey on changes that could streamline siting and permitting for clean energy infrastructure such as solar farms, battery arrays, transmission lines, and wind turbines. The recommendations drew praise from State Rep., Jeff Roy, who said the state needs a dramatically expanded power grid to be the backbone of this transformation. “We cannot achieve this clean energy future without comprehensive reform – and the commission’s recommendations – the work product of extensive, collaborative deliberations – provide a solid foundation to get there,” he added.

The Commission's recommendations would consolidate permits, set mandatory timeframes for permit decisions, establish what it called “community engagement” requirements for developers, and create its own guidance on the suitability of sites for energy infrastructure development.

“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,” said Governor Healey. The Governor went on to suggest that having that infrastructure in place will not only help to meet climate goals, “but “will also attract and support life sciences, climatetech, and other major industries looking to grow in Massachusetts.”

As with most public and private construction projects, obtaining permits for new energy infrastructure can be a long and unpredictable process. In addition to lengthy and sometimes redundant permitting processes, the extended appeals process can significantly delay or prevent clean energy infrastructure projects from being built.

In September 2023, Governor Healey signed Executive Order 620 to establish the Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting. The Commission is composed of representatives from municipalities, environmental justice organizations, environmental advocacy groups, electric utilities, agriculture, energy siting practitioners, clean energy industry, labor, housing and real estate. Supported by an Interagency Siting and Permitting Task Force and a Siting Practitioner Advisory Group, the Commission has met thirteen times since October 2023 to identify the barriers to clean energy development and develop recommendations on the strategies and policies necessary to address these challenges. In February, the Commission released a summary of discussions to date and a list of questions for public input and in March, the Commission held two public ‘listening’ sessions.

The Commission’s recommendations include:

  • Defining clean energy infrastructure as solar, wind and anaerobic digestion facilities; storage facilities; and transmission and distribution infrastructure.
  • Combining all state, regional, and local permits required for larger clean energy infrastructure projects into one consolidated permit to be issued by the Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB) in less than 15 months. All other agencies that would otherwise have a permitting role for the clean energy infrastructure project would participate in the EFSB review process through the issuance of statements of recommended permit conditions. EFSB decisions would be appealed directly to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court.
  • Combining all local permits for smaller clean energy infrastructure projects into one consolidated permit to be issued by the municipality in less than one year. The Department of Energy Resources would work with other state agencies to develop a uniform set of baseline health, safety, and environmental standards to guide municipalities in the issuance of permits for clean energy infrastructure.
  • Establishing mandatory requirements for developers to meaningfully engage with communities early in the development process to ensure robust public involvement, including requirements for timely and comprehensive notification, the number and types of meetings, a 60-day public comment period, efforts to involve community organizations, and efforts to develop a community benefit agreement.
  • Creating an Office of Community Engagement at the EFSB to facilitate dialogue and assist communities and project applicants with engagement.
  • Directing EEA to work with stakeholders to create site suitability guidance to be used by project developers to better understand and evaluate resource areas for quality, development potential, and social and environmental impacts, and to be used in permitting processes to avoid, minimize, and mitigate impacts on the environment and people.
  • Tasking the Office of Environmental Justice and Equity with creating statewide guidance on community benefits plans and agreements to help ensure communities receive new benefits and opportunities from infrastructure sited in their area.
  • Additional complementary reforms to ensure more efficient permitting processes, provide public education, and incentivize responsible clean energy development.

Roy, who is House Chair of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy thanked the Healey-Driscoll administration for being outstanding partners “in propelling the permitting conversation to the forefront.”

“Our decarbonization strategy is clear – to get to net zero emissions by 2050, we need an enormous increase in electric vehicles, heat pumps, and clean energy resources,” Roy added.

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