Xiarhos Files Legislation to Require Better State Oversight of Onshore Electric Infrastructure Supporting Offshore Wind Energy

June 26, 2024

BOSTON – State Representative Steve Xiarhos (R – Barnstable) filed special legislation this week to compel the development of statewide compliance standards and safety protocols for mitigating dangers posed by onshore electric infrastructure that supports offshore wind-generated energy.

Initially numbered as HD5210, the bill was prompted by, and mirrors concerns raised by officials in the Town of Barnstable recently relative to several wind energy projects now in development offshore. Barnstable has signed multiple host agreements with electric utility companies to bring offshore wind power onshore through the community, for later distribution to the general power grid. However, the town has noted that there is a severe lack of state oversight and planning when it comes to the risks associated with the infrastructure to support wind-generated power once offshore energy comes ashore. These risks include the possibility for fire or environmental contamination at high-capacity electric substations, some of which may be built in or near residential neighborhoods. Town officials have voiced concern about possible negative effects to the air, soil, and drinking water, including the sole source aquifer. Residents in the area also have noted concern about possible negative side effects from electromagnetic energy.

“I’ve heard all of the concerns, I think they are valid, I share them, and I am determined to do something to address them at the state level,” Xiarhos said in a statement regarding the legislation he filed. “That’s what my bill is intended to do.”

According to Xiarhos, the legislation would require high-level state officials with oversight of utility facility siting, environmental matters, public safety and public health to come together and study the problem, and to develop suggested legislation to address the issue in the near-term. “We need stakeholders and experts with experience in these matters to take a very close look at the potential issues and to develop meaningful solutions to the problem, quickly, if these projects are to proceed,” Xiarhos said. Under the legislation Xiarhos filed, state officials would be asked to take a special look at ways the state could impose compliance standards on projects to ensure public health and safety, and to mitigate any potential environmental concerns. Xiarhos said he also wants the state to look at potential protocols for how to address a catastrophic event if one were to occur, including potential reimbursement for the costs towns incur to respond to and clean up after an event like a fire or a toxic spill.

“These are real potential hazards, and as town officials have noted, once local zoning is passed there is a lack of state oversight for these projects and a dangerous lack of health, safety, and environmental protocols and planning on the state level,” Xiarhos said. “While I have full faith and confidence in local first responders to deal with a situation were one to occur, I think it also would be preferable to have the state involved since these projects are being undertaken to address statewide energy goals. I appreciate the efforts of town officials and residents to bring these concerns to the forefront and I believe it is important for the state to consider them.”

Xiarhos said he wants to make it very clear that he supports clean energy generation and that nothing in his legislation would in any way disrupt or delay any projects the state already has committed to. “Barnstable and other communities have signed host agreements with power companies for these projects, in their discretion, and my bill does not undermine those agreements,” Xiarhos said. “I believe in the importance of clean energy and I am committed to doing my part to see clean energy projects further our goal of providing sustainable, environmentally-friendly energy for this and future generations in our state. However, I also believe very strongly that the projects that generate this energy should not pose environmental, public safety or public health dangers to the residents who live and work in the areas where these projects take place. And, in particular, I think it’s important for the state to back up its commitment to clean energy generation with proper standards, protocols, and expectations for how to deal with potential negative impacts and particularly potential catastrophic events. The well-being of the residents of Cape Cod always must come first and foremost with all we do, and I see it as an important part of my job to protect people.”