Assembly To Weigh In On Wind Turbine Zoning Regulations
By: Michael C. Bailey
The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates will likely have a rare packed house on Wednesday, when it will consider proposed amendments to the Regional Policy Plan (RPP) covering siting for land-based wind turbines.
Two recent public hearings on the proposed regulations, hosted by the Assembly’s Standing Committee on Government Regulations, drew capacity crowds. Last week’s hearing, a continuation of the first October hearing, ran for two hours, during which time several speakers railed against placing large-scale turbines near residential areas.
The proposed changes are to the RPP’s energy policies, and would set minimum performance standards for the development of land-based wind turbines. The standards address three key topics: safety, noise from the turbine’s operation, and “shadow flicker” from a turbine’s spinning blades.
The draft safety standard calls for “a clear area of 1.5 times the tip height” of the turbine “from any structure outside the applicant’s development site.” Example: a turbine that measures 200 feet from ground to the tip of its blade at the peak of their rotation would require a 300 foot minimum setback.
Project applicants would be able to negotiate a smaller setback with adjacent property owners “provided that the reduction would not pose a threat to life or property.”
The noise standard requires all projects involving a turbine of one megawatt (MW) capacity or greater to conduct a noise study, the results of which would be verified by a consultant hired by the Cape Cod Commission.
The shadow flicker standard, which also applies to one MW or larger turbines, requires developers to prove “no adverse shadow flicker impacts” to nearby residential properties.
During the first hearing several speakers from Falmouth living near the town-owned turbine on Blacksmith Shop Road, who claim to be experiencing various health issues due to the noise of the turbine in operation, pushed the committee to reject the RPP amendments as inadequate.
The full Assembly may choose to adopt the new regulations, reject them, or may return them to the Cape Cod Commission for further development – the option many of last week’s speakers urged the Assembly to pursue.
According to John Lipman, president of Lipman Development Strategies and former deputy director of the Cape Cod Commission, who spoke at last week’s hearing, the urgency in passing local regulations stems from the state’s push to develop land-based wind energy. Governor Deval L. Patrick last year set for the state a goal of developing 2,000 MW of wind energy capacity by 2020 to diversify the state’s energy portfolio, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and position the state as a leader in the renewable energy industry.
To facilitate this goal, the Legislature is considering a bill that would enact a streamlined municipal permitting process for land-based turbines. Under bill H.4955, municipalities could identify “wind resource areas” in town suitable for wind turbine development, then form a wind energy permitting board to process applications for wind turbine projects. The board would include members of a town’s planning, zoning, and conservation boards.
Developers proposing a project of two megawatt capacity or greater would follow an expedited permitting process. Public hearings would be held as part of the process, but the wind energy permitting board would decide whether to permit the project.
That bill has been stuck in the Senate since the end of the formal session in July. Senate President Therese M. Murray (D – Plymouth) has been attempting to push the bill through in informal session, but Republican senators have made a point of blocking those efforts. In informal session, only one vote is necessary to prevent a bill from advancing.
Christopher G. Senie, a Westborough attorney representing several Falmouth residents affected by the Blacksmith Shop Road turbine, at last week’s hearing disputed claims that there was an urgent need to pass regional regulations, noting that town zoning bylaws could easily address any concerns until the county could craft stronger regional regulations.
The Assembly will meet in its chamber in the First District Courthouse on Route 6A in Barnstable Village. The meeting begins at 4 PM, and while there will be an opportunity for public comment, the Assembly will not accept additional testimony during its formal deliberations on the proposed RPP changes.