Draft Bylaw Sets New Restrictions on Wind Turbines in Falmouth
By: Brent Runyon
A new local bylaw governing all future wind turbines in Falmouth is in the works, with more restrictions on the location and noise output of the turbines.
The chairmen of Falmouth Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals drafted the bylaw that would govern the development and operation of all future wind turbines in Falmouth, and presented it to the board of appeals members on Thursday last week.
The bylaw would replace the existing town bylaw, which has only minimal requirements and refers to the devices as windmills, and institute a series of noise limits and setback requirements from existing single-family homes and single-family home districts.
“All wind turbines in the Town of Falmouth shall require a special permit,” read board of appeals Chairman Matthew J. McNamara Thursday night.
This spring, Falmouth erected the first municipally-owned turbine in the state-- to the consternation of some residents.
Mr. McNamara has stated in the past that in his opinion the town should not have bypassed the local permitting process for those turbines.
The bylaw would also be applied to turbines at educational institutions, which have previously bypassed the permitting process because of a state law exempting institutions from local zoning restrictions.
The turbines at Falmouth Academy and the Woods Hole Research Center on Woods Hole Road were both constructed without a special permit from the zoning board of appeals.
Are setbacks a setback?
Neighbors of the existing town turbines have complained that the sound levels and interference from the turbines have made their homes practically unlivable.
The draft bylaw includes setback requirements for future wind turbines from single-family residences and districts using a sliding scale. Large turbines would be sited farther away, while small turbines could be closer.
“Distance to the nearest residence or district that allows single-family homes by right, shall be no less than 10 times the rotational diameter of the wind turbine blades,” the draft bylaw reads.
Mr. McNamara stressed that he and planning board Chairman Patricia H. Kerfoot wrote the draft bylaw without applying it to any existing projects.
“We’re trying to be as neutral as possible,” he said. “This is not an anti-turbine document and this is not a pro-turbine document.”
Board members did not discuss the particulars of any past or future wind turbine project in town. But according to the town GIS maps, the existing turbines would have to be smaller if they were to be compliant with the draft bylaw. The diameter of the town-owned turbine blades is 269 feet, which would mean that a future turbine of that size would need to be at least 2,690 feet from the nearest residence. The closest homes to the town-owned turbine are about 1,300 feet away.
The Woods Hole Research Center turbine would have also had to be smaller to be compliant. The current turbine is 69 feet in diameter, requiring a 690-foot setback, and there are existing houses within 300 feet.
The setback distances are designed to eliminate complaints about the noise and light flicker effect produced by turbines, Mr. McNamara explained.
Noise is the most common complaint about the town-owned turbine, and the proposed bylaw addresses those issues with a series of noise restrictions.
No turbine should produce more than 30 decibels of noise, measured from a half mile away, the bylaw reads. Additionally, if a turbine produces turbulence in the air, called aerodynamic amplitude modulation, the acceptable decibel level would be reduced to 25.
Language to be tweaked
The two and a half page draft bylaw is drawn in part from a previous board of appeals special permit granted to Notus Clean Energy, which is currently in operation in the Falmouth Technology Park, and from a study by the Minnesota Board of Health, Mr. McNamara said.
The bylaw would also require applicants to propose maintenance plans and a plan for dismantling the turbines to prevent anyone from abandoning a wind turbine.
Board of appeals members praised Mr. McNamara and Ms. Kerfoot for drafting the document, and suggested a few minor changes.
Vice Chairman Dennis M. Murphy said as the bylaw is currently written, even the smallest wind turbine, such as those that are mounted on top of homes, would not be allowed anywhere within a single-family residential district.
“Not a lot of a places qualify. Most single-family homes are within single-family home districts,” he said.
Mr. McNamara said that language should be tweaked so that turbines could allowed within a homeowner’s lot within a single-family residential district.
Mr. Murphy also asked where the idea for the 10 times the rotational diameter measurement came from. Mr. McNamara said that was in the Minnesota Board of Health document, and designed to eliminate the flicker effect.
There were 10 people in the audience during the discussion, but Mr. McNamara did not allow comments from the public, explaining that if the bylaw went forward, there would be ample opportunity for public comment.
Board member Ronald H. Erickson suggested that there should be a preamble to the bylaw explaining that the board of appeals is in favor of wind turbines.
Mr. McNamara said the document is meant to be neutral and not express a particular point of view about turbines.
“We maintained our neutrality to the point we didn’t apply this to any existing wind turbine project in town,” Mr. McNamara said. “Some people will think it’s too restrictive and others will think it is too permissive.”
Falmouth Planning Board will discuss the draft bylaw at its November 30 meeting, but will not take public comment.
The draft bylaw would have to be completed by January to be placed on the April Town Meeting Warrant and would require a two-thirds majority of Town Meeting members to be ratified.