Massachusetts’ Commission on Clean Energy Infrastructure Permitting & Siting Releases Final Recommendations

The Commission on Energy Infrastructure Siting and Permitting (Commission) was established by Governor Healey in Executive Order 620 (EO 620) in September 2023. The Commission was formed to help reduce permitting timelines for clean energy infrastructure, to ensure that community feedback is sufficiently incorporated into siting and permitting decision making, and to ensure that the benefits of the clean energy transition are shared equitably among all Massachusetts communities and residents. As a result of EO 620, the Commission was obligated to provide recommendations to Governor Healey on administrative, regulatory, and legislative changes needed for existing permitting and siting procedures, by March 31, 2024.

The Commission includes 28 members from state agencies, municipalities, environmental justice organizations, climate, environmental, and land-use advocates, electric utilities, agricultural interests, energy siting advisory groups, clean energy industry representatives, housing and real estate, labor, and the state legislature (represented by the Chairs of the Joint Committee of Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy (TUE), Senator Barrett and Representative Roy). Alongside Commission members, the Commission was also supported by an Interagency Task Force across 16 state agencies and a Siting Practitioner Advisory Group of 12 practicing attorneys with expertise in siting and permitting of energy infrastructure in Massachusetts.

Despite a tight timeline for working through extremely complex and technical information, the Commission also offered opportunities for public comment through written public comments and two listening sessions, offered in early 2024.

The Commission’s recommendations include suggestions like: considerations for overarching reforms clarifying statutory definitions related to clean energy infrastructure; changes to the Energy Facilities Siting Board’s (EFSB’s) jurisdictional permitting process; changes to local permitting processes for non-EFSB jurisdictional projects (through a consolidated local permit); changes to the Energy Facilities Siting Board’s mandate, board composition, staffing, funding, fees, and office of community engagement; the Massachusetts’ Environmental Protection Act’s (MEPA’s) role in permitting; siting considerations; and suggested legislative reforms. Suggested legislative reforms that would require action by the state legislature and Governor include permit extensions, appeals reform, energy storage eligibility for EFSB certificates, and clarification on Department of Public Utilities (DPU) authorizations for transmission lines.

Alongside the recommendations of overarching reforms and legislative reforms, the Commission also offers suggestions for non-legislative reforms like statewide public education campaigns, model zoning bylaws, review of MassDEP’s noise policy, technical assistance by EEA and/or DOER, community benefits agreements, revisiting criteria for Green Communities Designation, solar canopy incentives, DPU review and interconnection approval process reform, and suggestions for review of siting and permitting reforms again in 2030.

Given the participation of TUE Chairs Barret and Roy on the Commission, the expectation is that the legislative reform recommendations offered by the Commission will be taken to the state legislature for consideration in a potential 2024 climate omnibus bill (or a set of “minibus” bills) to be passed before the end of legislative session in July. Such legislation would need to clarify and direct executive branch agencies related to clean energy infrastructure siting and permitting to coordinate their regulatory processes and associated timelines so that proposed rules can move concurrently, and so that there is clarity and transparency in how parallel regulatory processes will interact with each other. Finally, the Commission recommends that agencies responsible for promulgating regulations and rulemaking should also be directed by legislation to convene a robust stakeholder engagement process that includes municipal, environmental, climate, land use, environmental justice, clean energy, and utility stakeholders before commencing any formal rulemaking.

The final Commission recommendations may be found here. For more information, please contact Isabella Gambill.

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