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Mass. energy innovation is heard loud and clear

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Massachusetts is living up to its reputation as a center of clean energy innovation and entrepreneurship, but it’s also showing that in the zeal to go green there’s a danger of getting out a bit over one’s skis, to borrow from the the winter-sport-as-metaphor-user-in-chief.

Massachusetts-based GreatPoint Energy energy plans to announce today a $1.25 billion agreement with a Chinese firm to build a plant in Western China that will convert coal into synthetic natural gas. The deal between the Cambridge-based start-up and China Wanxiang Holdings, in which the Chinese firm will take a $420 million minority stake in GreatPoint, is one of the largest investments by a Chinese company in a venture capital-backed American firm, the Globe reports.

GreatPoint has a demonstration facility in Somerset that it has used to try to sell potential customers on its patented technology, which derives natural gas from coal and separates out nearly all the global warming-causing carbon dioxide pollutants the process generates. The firm is part of a robust sector that has made Massachusetts a major player in the burgeoning energy innovation sector.  

Being on that leading edge, however, can also mean running headfirst into new problems. That is what’s now confronting wind power developers, who are suddenly on the defensive as the state office promoting the technology is now acknowledging a problem that has been raised by wind power’s fiercest critics: Wind turbines, which from a distance appear to spin quietly while generating green power, also generate noise that those living near the installations say is driving them nuts.

The Globe reports today that environmental officials are considering new regulations that would require state evaluation of potential noise impacts before wind turbines are deployed in the state. This comes on the heels of last week’s ruling by the state that a wind turbine in Falmouth generates unacceptable noise levels that can be heard at a residence less than 1,500 feet away.

The new development means the state office that has been aggressively pushing wind energy as part of the state’s renewable energy future may now be charged with policing its potential intrusive impacts.  Wind power supporters have continually downplayed the concerns about its noise impacts. The new state posture is being cheered by Eleanor Tillinghast, one of the state’s most vociferous wind power opponents. Tillinghast, a member of the steering committee of Windwise Massachusetts, a group that has opposed various wind projects, told the Globe it’s “a great idea” to require evaluation of the noise impact of wind turbines before they are approved.

But she and other critics are hardly stopping there. They say the flickering light given off by turbines -- and low-frequency sound waves that are below the range of human hearing -- are responsible for anxiety, depression, nausea, and other symptoms they call “wind turbine syndrome.”

A panel of experts convened by the Department of Environmental Protection that raised a flag over the Falmouth turbine said there is no rigorous evidence to support the idea of wind turbine syndrome.  But especially after alternative energy boosters dismissed for so long the complaints about audible noise effects of turbines, don’t expect those now complaining about non-audible impacts to go quietly.

                                                                                                                                        --MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

Keller@Large runs the full one-on-one with Gov. Deval Patrick, and Jon Keller says now that Patrick has been freed from his political bondage, he is starting to get very interesting in his outspokenness.

Partner HealthCare may have legitimate concerns about the cost containment bill in the Legislature, but The Berkshire Eagle argues that it is ignoring the impacts on smaller enterprises.

A Herald editorial rips the House’s item pricing bill as a bureaucracy-laden half-measure.

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Fall River’s Groceries for Guns program reached a milestone this weekend when the 17-year-old, no-questions-asked gun trade-in received its 3,000th weapon, a .38-caliber “Saturday night special,” in exchange for a food gift certificate.

A new federal law requires that police and fire departments move communications to a new radio frequency and Boston area towns are concerned that they will be on the hook for new equipment if current equipment cannot be reprogrammed to meet the updated requirements.

The Amesbury firefighters union resists a bid to exempt top jobs in the department from civil service. CommonWealth’s Spring 2011 issue examined some of the pitfalls in the state’s civil service system.

ELECTION 2012

The National Review’s editors say Harvard and Penn should share Elizabeth Warren’s shame over the still-undocumented claims of Native American heritage and should release her personnel files to prove she did not receive favored treatment because of the claim. But the MetroWest Daily News says her heritage is a non-issue and a distraction from real discussions about the issues that matter. The Herald asks whether it’s too late to dump Warren.

Home prices in 14 battleground states in the presidential race are showing slight improvement, which means good news for someone, according to an index from the Progressive Policy Institute. Via U.S. News & World Report.

Cory Booker, the tweet-crazed mayor of Newark, extended his remarks well beyond 140 characters in a Sunday appearance on Meet the Press as an Obama campaign surrogate, but things did not exactly go according to campaign script.

Meet the Romney campaign’s snarkiest wonk, bids The New Republic. New York magazine weighs in on the lessons Romney learned from his father’s failed 1968 campaign.

Super PAC spending is shifting from the presidential race to congressional contests.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Wellesley College economist Phillip Levine links teen birth rates and income inequality, WBUR reports.
 
Charities are looking for Facebook investors to “like” them. And speaking of Facebook, CEO Mark Zuckerberg last week turned 28, broke IPO records, and updated his relationship status to married with Dr. Priscilla Chan, a Braintree native and valedictorian of Quincy High School’s class of 2003.

New York is the first state to require lawyers seeking licenses to perform unpaid work on behalf of indigent clients, the New York Times reports.

Paul Krugman thanks Jamie Dimon and Mitt Romney for reminding the public why businesses need regulation.

Bain & Company plans to open its first Washington office, but the giant consulting firm says it has nothing to do with the White House run of its most prominent former employee.

HEALTH CARE

The town of Westford negotiated changes to its municipal health plans, saving $237,000 over the next year, the Lowell Sun reports.

After years with no human cases of Eastern equine encephalitis, the number of people contracting EEE has steadily increased since 2006 but state officials don’t know why.

TRANSPORTATION

All portions of the MBTA’s underground subway system should be wired for cellphone reception by the end of the year (something that is presumably supposed to be viewed as a good thing).

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

State leaders are working to close a loophole in Melanie’s Law that lets some repeat drunk drivers avoid the full set of sanctions set forth in the 2005 legislation.

Nine months after having vowed to investigate a string of allegations of sexual abuse of minors by former tennis star Bob Hewitt, the Newport, Rhode Island-based International Tennis Hall of Fame has carried out no inquiry into the charges, reports the Globe’s Bob Hohler.

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