Massachusetts Reassessing Energy Subsidies

 
SOLAR PLANT SNUFFED: A solar power plant in Devens, Massachusetts, that had been promised $58 million in state aid in 2008 will shut down in March, costing the state more than 800 jobs. The move has Massachusetts lawmakers rethinking the wisdom of such subsidies, the Boston Globe reports . "A lot of people are very skeptical now," says House Speaker Robert DeLeo. Evergreen Solar Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, said it was closing the plant because China offers more generous subsidies for solar manufacturing. Evergreen will have to repay some, but not all, of the grants and tax breaks that Massachusetts has given it. Governor Deval Patrick's administration indicated it would pursue more aggressive "clawback" provisions in future subsidy deals to give the state more of its money back if a business doesn't live up to its commitments. 

WIND RULES: A bill proposed by new Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has the wind energy industry petrified, the Wisconsin State Journal reports . Current state rules typically require wind farms to be about 450 feet from private property and 1,250 feet from homes. Walker's measure would increase the requirement to 1,800 feet from private property. "It would in essence shut down wind energy in the state," said Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association. "It is one of the most onerous regulations we have seen." The idea was cheered, however, by residents who have complained about noise and vibrations from wind farms.

DRILLING DEBATE: Environmentalists in Ohio are   worried about recent proposals to drill for oil and gas in state parks, the Columbus Dispatch reports . Ohio faces an $8 billion budget shortfall and its state parks have $560 million in overdue repairs. Against that backdrop, David Mustine, the new director of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, says he's willing to consider drilling in the parks, a move his predecessor had opposed. Mustine, appointed by newly elected Governor John Kasich, is a former executive with an oil and gas company. An industry official thinks drilling in the parks would bring the state $30 million a year, but the move would require legislative approval.

FIREFIGHTING SHIFT: Firefighters aren't exempt from Governor Jerry Brown's broad rethinking of the relationship between state and local government in California , the San Jose Mercury News reports . Currently, CalFire, a state agency, is largely responsible for firefighting on the approximately 31 million acres of land that are neither in cities nor owned by the federal government. Brown's plan is to cut CalFire staffing to the lowest levels in nearly a decade, then to shift some firefighting responsibilities to local governments. While details of the plan haven't been fleshed out, local officials already are reacting warily to the concept, questioning whether they'll have the money and manpower to do the job. Brown's view, though, is that local governments that have allowed development to sprawl into fire-prone areas should pay for putting out blazes.

NUCLEAR OPTION: Recently empowered Republicans in the Minnesota legislature are looking to do away with the state's ban on new nuclear power plants, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports . A House committee already has approved a proposal to reverse the ban, which has been in place since 1994. However, Mark Dayton, the state's new Democratic governor, has opposed lifting the prohibition, which has been a repeated source of debate in Minnesota in recent years. Construction hasn't begun on a new nuclear plant in the United States since the 1970s.
 
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