The Berkshire Wind Project’s building permits will expire this summer and a proposed zoning bylaw may prevent the decade-old “green-power” initiative from getting off the ground, according to resident Andre Rambaud.
Rambaud, who is leasing his land off Route 43 to the project, is a longtime proponent of using energy from renewable sources such as wind, sun and water. He has installed custom generators near his house to harness energy from all three of these sources. Town officials could not be reached by press time to confirm the exact expiration date of the building permits.
“The building permits are going to expire in June or July,” Rambaud said Thursday. “If the permits expire, and the zoning amendment goes through, it will be difficult to do anything after that.”
Planning Board Chairwoman Joan Burdick said the new bylaw would not affect projects that have already obtained permits.
The bylaw would outlaw all commercial wind turbine electricity generators and cellular telephone towers over 150 feet tall. Most commercial wind towers exceed this height, but the measurement is the minimum height of most cell towers.
Voters will decide on the zoning change during the annual town meeting May 11 at 7:30 p.m. in the Hancock Elementary School on Route 43. Voters rejected a similar amendment at last year’s town meeting. According to Burdick, a majority of voters approved the article, but the approval fell short of the required two-thirds majority. A number of other county towns have approved or are considering tower restrictions.
There are no cell towers in Hancock, but Jiminy Peak Mountain Resort on Brodie Mountain Road and Distributed Generation Systems Inc. of Lakewood, Colo. (which represents the Berkshire Wind Project) are constructing wind turbines that measure more than 250 feet tall.
Dale Osborn, DisGen president and spokesman for the wind project, was unavailable to comment on the its status. The 10 338-foot-high turbines planned for Brodie Mountain are projected to generate nearly 15 megawatts of electricity, which is enough to power up to 4,500 households yearly. The project is a joint effort that began in 1998 in collaboration of Berkshire Wind Power LLC and the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. So far, five turbine foundations have been dug.
Betsy Strickler, marketing director at Jiminy Peak, said parts to complete its 253-foot wind turbine near the ski mountain’s summit will arrive in June. The foundation is already complete. In the meantime, electricians will rewire the resort to allow for the new 1,500-kilowatt power source.
“Pretty much, everything is all set to go,” Strickler said. “We have all of our permits. We just have to do some final tweaking of the electrical systems and wait until the snow is melted.”
She said Jiminy Peak is also planning on erecting a 150-foot cell phone tower near its summit some time in the future.
None of the towers are complete yet. So far, the town’s only complete turbine is 45 feet tall and owned by Rambaud, who uses it to generate some electricity for home use.
Burdick said Thursday that the Planning Board proposed the amendment again for fiscal 2008 and she is hopeful that will pass, even though not much has changed within the community since last year’s town meeting. The amendment is worded slightly differently than last year – the board raised the proposed height limit by 30 feet to accommodate Jiminy Peak’s cell tower plans.
Burdick said the only reason the board decided to propose the bylaw is to hold corporations and organizations responsible for dismantling the towers once they are no longer used. She said while she could not imagine a cell phone tower ever ceasing to function, she is concerned about the life of turbines. Manufacturers design turbines to last between 20 and 30 years before needing replacement.
She said the bylaw would require future tower builders to present their plans before the Zoning Board of Appeals and meet certain conditions if seeking special building permits.
Burdick told The Berkshire Eagle last year that tower construction concerned residents who are opposed to commercial development in the town, which is mostly rural. Some residents feared the space-age-looking turbines would clash with the natural landscape and decrease property values.
Silverleaf Resorts Inc. of Dallas already filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Springfield against the Berkshire Wind Project in September after contractors clearing land for the windmill project allegedly cut down trees on Silverleaf’s property off Route 7 in June.
The suit seeks that five of the project’s 10 proposed turbines be moved further west, away from Silverleaf’s property line. Silverleaf filed for a preliminary injunction against continuing construction on Oct. 11 and claimed the sight of wind turbines would infringe on the resort’s $40 million vision of housing in a pristine setting.
“There are not many places in Berkshire County that are good for wind turbines,” Rambaud said. “There has to be a mountain exposed to the west that has steep slopes. We happen to have a particularly good range. It would be a shame not to use it.”
By Bonnie Obremski, North Adams Transcript
23 March 2007
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