Town Meeting Tuesday night took a decisive step to allow the development of SouthCoast’s first commercial wind-power project.
After more than three hours of discussion, Town Meeting voted 141 to 98 to allow the Board of Selectmen to enter into a 25-year lease agreement with private developer CCI Energy.
The company plans to erect two 396-foot commercial wind turbines on town-owned land adjacent to the its waste-water treatment facility on Little Bay.
The company now must undergo a special permit process with the town’s Planning Board and the Conservation Commission, as well as fulfill all state and federal requirements before it can start construction on the $7 million project. CCI and selectmen are also still negotiating the final agreement.
CCI plans to have the turbines operating by fall.
The vote came after more than three hours of presentations by proponents, town consultants and others, and an aggressive effort by opponents of the project to sway voters’ opinions.
“That’s how change starts,” said wind-power proponent Dan Freitas, about the only proponent that spoke in favor of the project on Town Meeting floor.
Members of WindWise Fairhaven, which opposed the project, did everything from forming a row of hand-drawn posters opposing the project, distributing copies of a petition with six pages of signatures asking for a “no” vote, showing a 16-minute video on Town Meeting floor and walking up to microphones on the floor, when they were interrupted several times with shouts asking for the question to be moved.
Three hours into the meeting, members moved to vote on the question.
After the vote, Town Moderator Brian Bowcock called a win for the “yes” votes twice, but WindWise members asked for a vote count amidst several minutes of confusion.
It was unknown late Tuesday night what kind of action was taken on the subsequent 10 articles petitioned by the group asking for more studies and recommendations before the project proceeds. A set of articles that would try to change the town’s wind turbine bylaw were believed to be illegal.
Under CCI’s proposal, power produced by the two Vestas V82 turbines will help power the Arsene Street treatment plant, the town’s largest electricity user. The turbines are expected to produce about 742 megawatts hours of electricity a year to power the facility.
CCI is selling the power to the town at wholesale prices and excess production to the power grid.
CCI said the town will save town at least $150,000 a year between electricity costs and land lease and tax revenue.
Leading up to Tuesday night’s special Town Meeting, the issue had been highly divisive in Fairhaven, with WindWise saying the proposed turbines would be too close to homes, would be noisy and would cause annoying strobe shadows at sunrise and sundown, among other things.
“This is going to affect the values of our houses, there’s no doubt about it,” Ken Pottel, WindWise member, said on Town Meeting floor after the group had presented information about lowering property values in Hull, where two turbines are in operation.
“I just think this is very unfair,” he said.
The town and the developer released studies showing noise and flicker effects were acceptable and that there was no evidence of turbines affecting property values. Tuesday night they again fielded questions on the issues on the Town Meeting floor.
The closest homes to the Fairhaven turbines will be about 750 feet away.
WindWise fiercely tried to stop the project by claiming the current town bylaw doesn’t set proper setbacks. The setback requirement under current bylaw is at a minimum equal to the turbine height (in this case 400 feet) at the property line.
WindWise has insisted on a minimum 1,200-foot setback, or three times the turbine height to the blade tip, which has been recommended as rule of thumb by the UMass Amherst Renewable Energy Research Lab.
Tuesday night, UMass representative Melissa Elkinton said rule of thumb is superseded by the results of the sound study.
“These bylaws, these setbacks were framed for this specific project,” complained Town Meeting member Henry Ferreira. “Why are we doing this?”
By Joao Ferreira
Standard-Times staff writer
16 May 2007
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