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September 26, 2023

Healey plans clean energy permitting overhaul

Photo | File Wind turbines

The governor plans Tuesday to sign an executive order that will address the process by which clean energy projects and infrastructure are permitted, an issue which utility companies and others have said could determine whether Massachusetts makes good on its commitment to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Gov. Maura Healey plans to create the Commission on Clean Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting and swear in its members in her ceremonial office Tuesday at 10:45 a.m. She will be joined by Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Rebecca Tepper.

The advisory from the governor's press office did not identify commission members and said the group "will be tasked with streamlining and accelerating the siting and permitting of clean energy infrastructure in Massachusetts."

There is general agreement among utility companies, environmental activists and others that the energy project permitting and siting process as it exists today is a poor model. It often takes a long time to get a project through the process, it can be overly complicated for members of the public to follow proceedings, and it does not always incorporate feedback from impacted communities.

The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities and Energy heard testimony in June on legislation related to clean energy permitting and siting, and co-chair Sen. Michael Barrett said the issue "is likely to be a major preoccupation of the Legislature."

One bill (H 3215) filed by Rep. Jeff Roy, the House co-chair of the committee, would create a new office within the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs with the authority to consolidate various permitting processes related to utility decarbonization infrastructure projects into one process. Bill supporters, including utility companies National Grid and Eversource, said the current permitting process creates unnecessary overlaps that cause delays and makes meaningful public engagement difficult and expensive.

The committee also has a bill addressing Energy Facilities Siting Board reform (H 3187) and environmental justice communities filed by Rep. Adrian Madaro of East Boston and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett. A central part of that bill would require developers to actively engage with the host community before submitting a project for EFSB approval. It would also explicitly add environmental justice, public health, and climate to the EFSB's responsibilities.

"We understand as companies that we have to be more transparent, more inclusive, on the front end and have that front-end engagement. And at the same time, we need the process to be much more predictable and timely, and have concurrent kind of reviews, and standardized reviews," Melissa Lavinson, head of New England corporate affairs at National Grid, told the News Service earlier this month. She added, "So really being clear about what the expectation is of us as the applicant, of what the regulator wants to see, and then if we deliver on that, for them to be able to review it in a much quicker timeframe, more predictable timeframe. So that's a big thing that really needs to be discussed."

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