Michael DeChiara: Don't ‘Quabbin-ize’ push for clean energy

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Published: 05-28-2024 10:46 AM

The Quabbin Reservoir is a powerful reminder of towns being steamrolled by state government to get its way. Almost 100 years after construction began, the same dynamic is at play again, this time motivated by a narrow interpretation on how to expedite clean energy: A state climate bill will strip local decision-making on clean energy projects from all municipalities across the state.

Yes, we are in a climate emergency, and we need to act, but how this is done matters.

Municipalities understand local conditions and should be seen as partners rather than obstacles. Done right, clean energy projects can balance public and environmental health, and create long-term resiliency while advancing decarbonization. A “power over” approach risks the opposite — poor project siting and communities on the sidelines to pick up the pieces.

The House climate bill, H4501 as publicly posted, removes jurisdiction from municipal boards responsible for the public good — conservation commissions, planning boards, zoning boards of appeals, and boards of health. Solar, hydro, wind, batteries, biomass (not clean), and transmission line projects, large and small, will be decided upon by a single agency in Boston.

This is the wrong approach. It ignores the value of local knowledge and will lead to bad projects; some possibly approved automatically due to a likely bureaucratic logjam at the state level. It also ignores other options.

There are 351 cash-strapped municipalities that would eagerly decarbonize their town halls, schools, fire houses and DPWs and build canopies over their parking lots if the commonwealth partnered with them to fund these projects. Similarly, residential solar could be deployed more rapidly if adequately incentivized; the feds provide a one-third tax credit; Massachusetts offers a maximum subsidy of an anemic $1,000.

Partnership, not power over, can expedite decarbonization.The climate bill, H4501, is being developed now; to be passed by July 31. If you believe that meeting the decarbonization challenge should involve communities having a say in thoughtful project siting, please contact the House speaker (617-722-2500) and the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy (617-722-2030). Please act soon.

Michael DeChiara

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