The Senate has approved a bill that would reform the process for siting and permitting clean energy infrastructure such as solar arrays, wind turbines and battery storage.

The bill (S. 2838), approved by the Senate on June 25, includes a requirement for cities and towns to approve small clean energy infrastructure project applications through a consolidated permitting process within 12 months.

The bill includes several proposals made by a special Commission on Energy Siting and Permitting. A central theme of the commission’s recommendations was to consolidate approval processes into one central process, including a local-level policy that was not supported by the MMA.

The bill would mandate a consolidated permitting process at the local level for small clean energy infrastructure and give the city or town 12 months to issue a final permit decision that contains all necessary local approvals within the one consolidated permit.

Through the proposed consolidated process, it’s unclear whether a municipality would be able to effectively deny a permit application, either in whole or in part, beyond determining compliance with standards that would be set through the rulemaking process.

Regulations and guidance for this process would be developed by a new state office housed in the Department of Energy Resources.

The bill also proposes reforms to the Energy Facilities Siting Board that would expand membership to include municipal representation and would require the board to approve large projects through a consolidated permitting process within 15 months.

The Senate bill also proposes the establishment of a “site suitability methodology” to minimize or mitigate the social and environmental impacts of clean energy infrastructure projects. Such a framework could be applied to all clean energy infrastructure projects, including those under local jurisdiction. Program details would be determined through a regulatory process under the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.

In addition, the bill proposes:
• The creation of a public participation office, with support for intervenors and community engagement
• Clarification and simplification of electric school bus and supply procurement practices for municipalities
• Guidance on community benefit agreements to support municipalities as they consider permit application impacts and community needs, and as they navigate the community benefit agreement processes
• Creation of a new clean energy infrastructure dashboard

Acton Town Manager John Mangiarratti represented the MMA and municipalities on the 28-member Commission on Energy Siting and Permitting and was involved in clean energy siting and permitting policy discussions.

The MMA has long advocated for a local option for the consolidated permitting process at the local level. Other amendments supported by the MMA included technical corrections and provisions regarding deadline relief for municipalities in the event they are unable to complete an approval within 12 months.

The Commonwealth is striving to reach a net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050 through a range of initiatives, including shifting energy generation to sources like wind and solar while electrifying transportation and heating and cooling systems in buildings. The Senate bill is intended to advance these goals by expediting upgrades to the electric grid and speeding up clean energy generation and storage projects.

The bill also addresses electric vehicle charging infrastructure, transitioning the natural gas industry, train electrification, and rate protections.

The Senate adopted an amendment to expand the state’s bottle redemption law, an issue long-supported by the MMA. This provision would include most beverage containers and increase the five-cent deposit to 10 cents per container.

The bill now moves to the House for consideration, which is expected in the next several weeks.

Written by Josie Ahlberg, MMA Legislative Analyst and Adrienne Núñez, MMA Legislative Analyst