WORCESTER– The Planning Board last night unanimously endorsed a proposed zoning amendment to allow wind turbines in the city.
With its vote, the five-member board referred the amendment back to the City Council with a favorable recommendation. The City Council Land Use Committee is scheduled to hold another public hearing on the ordinance May 23.
While the amendment was hailed by advocates as a historic first step in bringing the city to the forefront when it comes to renewable energy, others argued that it might be too restrictive.
Sam Rosario, of 42 Forrest St., said if Worcester truly wants to become a “green” city, the ordinance should encourage greater use of wind turbines for the generation of electricity. He said the setback requirements in the ordinance would limit the number of sites in the city where wind turbines could be located to about a half dozen.
“The city should encourage a greater use of wind turbines by reducing the setback distances,” Mr. Rosario said.
In a written statement submitted to the Planning Board, Grace C. Ross, the Green-Rainbow Party’s nominee for governor last year and a candidate for councilor at-large, called the proposed ordinance a good first step toward getting more control over future energy generation and costs.
But she also said the city might want to consider increasing the height limits of the wind turbines, because it may be more cost-effective and efficient for larger structures to harness the wind and generate electricity. Ms. Ross said the city should not limit best possible options.
District 4 City Councilor Barbara G. Haller said there is a “hunger in the city” for wind power, and pointed out that the ordinance could be expanded over time if there is a growing demand for wind turbines.
William Picard, owner of Advanced Environmental Solutions Inc., praised city officials for taking the lead on pursuing wind-power energy alternatives, adding that economic and environmental factors will drive its success. As a city with several hills, he said, Worcester has the ability to capture wind power a lot better than many other parts of the state and the country.
Joel J. Fontane, director of the city’s Planning and Regulatory Services Division and drafter of the proposed zoning amendment, said that because the use of wind turbines and windmills for the generation of electricity are not explicitly mentioned in the city’s zoning ordinance, they are not a permitted use.
Under the proposed zoning amendment, such facilities would be allowed through a special permit process before the Planning Board.
Mr. Fontane said the amendment incorporates reasonable regulations that mitigate potential negative impacts and protect the quality of life in neighborhoods. Some of the provisions include restrictions on the height of the towers, setback requirements, regulations on the noise generated by the rotating wind turbine blades, and visual impact considerations.
The maximum allowable height of the wind turbines would be 265 feet. Mr. Fontane said that would allow for small utility-scale wind turbines and would prohibit the larger ones that are up to 400 feet tall.
In addition, the amendment requires a 650-foot separation from a wind turbine to the nearest “non-participating landowner’s” occupied building and at least a 165-foot separation between the turbine and the nearest occupied building of the landowner where the turbine is sited.
Pending City Council approval of the zoning amendment, Mr. Fontane said, the first applications for special permits for wind turbines could be filed in June or July.
By Nick Kotsopoulos
Telegram & Gazette Staff
19 April 2007