Assembly To Weigh In On Wind Turbine Zoning Regulations

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By: Michael C. Bailey
Published: 11/12/10

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.

2 Responses to "Assembly To Weigh In On Wind Turbine Zoning Regulations"

  1. The residents of Barnstable County ,Massachusetts are fortunate to have had so many dedicated and inquisitive residents in their midst who were willing to research the subject – and to take action to warn their neighbors, despite the negative blowback which they had to endure.  Unfortunately as we have seen in Falmouth, this seems to be an occupational hazard for anyone who dares to call attention to the fact that: a) these projects accomplish nothing useful in terms of reducing green house gas emissions; b) they are a blight upon the landscape and an environmental disaster for wildlife and human inhabitants, sowing misery and despair wherever they are installed; and c) they inevitably divide communities into bitter factions; and d) the tragic mistake of building them, once committed, is irreversible. 

  2. I recently attended the Falmouth Board of Health meeting of November 1, where members were very reluctant to a formal hearing concerning wind turbine health effects. Why? A substantial number of people in Falmouth; your constituency, find their actions, and inactions, deeply disturbing. The discovery process of the BoH on this very consequential issue has been woefully inadequate, as evidenced by one member mentioning the falsehood of no “peer reviewed” evidence. Can 16 citizens be suffering the same maladies all at the same time? I believe the BoH, in concert with the Falmouth Town Administration and the Energy committee, have been grossly negligent in examining, evaluating and presenting to the public the extent of adverse health effects from our industrial installations. Those living in villages away from Blacksmith Shop Rd... NIMBY.. you might judge? You bet! Next Idiot Might Be You! The expressed purpose of the BoH, first and foremost, is to be attentive to the safety and well being of It’s public charge. And, It will act as the regulatory authority prohibiting any development which threatens this trust. No matter what may be said about the potential benefits of wind energy, no one can credibly argue that installing industrial wind turbines in Falmouth, and robbing but one (1) citizen of the reasonable expectation of health and tranquility on their own private property, will deliver anything close to a social benefit. I don’t know how big a payoff the BoH would require to make such a bargain, but there is a growing segment of Falmouth that has learned that payoffs are illusory, and who will not, for any amount of "Silver", barter the well being of loved ones or neighbors. The fact, however, is that no matter where blame is placed, no one from Town Hall acknowledges, nor appreciates the adverse consequences befallen the victims. All readers must weigh this one question against your collective conscience; are we willing to pay the price of sacrificing public health and well being to see these projects realized?

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