Public Lands & Waters

Offshore projects would occupy state or federally owned public trust resource lands (submerged lands, waters and the air above state waters and/or the Outer Continental Shelf) [1] . There are no state or federal leasing programs in place to determine which areas are and are not appropriate for wind energy projects, to compensate the public for construction of facilities occupying public lands, or to provide an open marketplace for private companies to bid competitively for use of specific areas. The absence of comprehensive siting and leasing programs for offshore wind projects in federal waters is already leading to legal disputes regarding whether or not the Army Corps of Engineers has the authority to issue permits for such projects. There is a federal program for leasing of certain offshore areas by the oil and gas industry (although no such projects exist off the Massachusetts coast at present). This program provides funding distributed by the federal government to states for protection of land and water resources, and has been used successfully to fund public conservation land acquisition projects. Similar leasing programs should be established for offshore renewable energy projects. These programs should include geographical planning with public input to determine locations where wind energy is appropriate, and a competitive bidding process should determine which companies are allowed to lease those sites. A similar state planning and leasing program should be undertaken for areas within commonwealth waters. State and federal planning and leasing programs should be coordinated as much as possible, as described above through a combined MEPA/NEPA review process.

It is conceivable that wind energy proponents may propose projects on publicly owned park or forestlands. Public conservation ownership of lands should be a strong criterion against siting of wind farms in such locations. Construction of wind turbines is a commercial/industrial type of development and would constitute a change in use of lands acquired for the public purposes of natural resources conservation and recreation. Any such wind energy project for state lands should be subjected to the same rigorous requirements for any other project involving a change in use of "Article 97" (public conservation) lands, including provision of compensation of equal conservation and monetary value to offset impacts to publicly owned natural areas. The full impact of such projects should be taken into account, including direct impacts as well as changes in habitat and indirect effects of increased accessibility in remote areas where new access roads and utility lines would be involved. These considerations should be incorporated into the statewide wind energy planning process.

[1]Areas up to three miles offshore are under the jurisdiction of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts; those between three and 200 miles offshore are controlled by the federal government.