DARTMOUTH – The sky-high cost of waterfront property in these parts make it unlikely that we’ll ever see a large-scale commercial wind farm in South Dartmouth anytime soon.
That was the consensus of Dartmouth Alternative Energy Committee (AEC) and Planning Board members speculating on the possibility that someone might propose siting a few dozen commercial wind turbines somewhere along the Dartmouth shoreline.
“It’s not within the realm of probability,” AEC chairman Ronald DiPippo confidently told the Planning Board at a recent work session to review a proposed bylaw that would regulate commercial turbine facilities, commonly referred to as wind farms.
The cost of acquiring 50 to 100 acres of prime coastal property, largely cleared of trees, with access to strong offshore breezes in Dartmouth would simply be too prohibitive, even if such an ideal parcel should become available, Dr. DiPippo asserted.
Each large commercial wind turbine, possibly over 300 feet tall, would need its own two acre footprint, requiring at least 50 acres of land to site a two dozen turbine wind farm, AEC members suggested.
Several local realtors agreed that such large parcels rarely go on the market, and would be fabulously expensive if they did. The last big parcel with waterfront, the 100-plus acre Tuckerman Farm, went for a reported $13 million.
Not to mention the potential opposition of thousands of locals who would be likely to vigorously oppose the idea of anything more than a few towering commercial turbines along the South Dartmouth or South Westport shorelines for farm or business use.
“If it were feasible, we would have seen it already,” Dr. DiPippo suggested. “You need the wind resource and you need the area” close to the water where wind currents are strongest, he indicated.
“I don’t think you have a big enough parcel of land in Dartmouth for that,” agreed Planning Board member Arthur Larivee, himself a wind turbine owner. He noted you need clear land, without turbulence-causing trees, for wind turbines to operate efficiently.
As unlikely as a commercial wind farm might be, “it is a possibility” that needs to be addressed in Dartmouth’s zoning bylaws, town Director of Planning Donald Perry said at the meeting with the AEC. With several suggestions from the Planning Board added to the draft of the bylaw, it should be a good regulatory tool for the town, he believes.
A wind farm doesn’t necessarily have to be on a single piece of land, Mr. Perry theorized, but could consists of clusters of turbines on nearby parcels. “It could be two 20-acre parcels in the same neighborhood, or a number of smaller lots” like a checkerboard, he indicated.
According to the draft of the proposed bylaw, commercial-sized wind turbines (greater than 10 Kw, up to 2.5 Mw) would be allowed in all zoning districts with a special permit from the Select Board.
The board would vote on the recommendations of a five-member technical review group including a town engineer, delegates from the Planning Board, Appeals Board and AEC, and one member at large.
The bylaw would limit monopole towers for turbines up to 100 meters (330 feet), with commercial blades ranging up to 75 feet above the hub of the turbine. A setback two times the height of the tower would be required for each commercial turbine.
The proposed installation of more than one turbine on a single parcel would trigger the commercial turbine bylaw review. If granted, special permits would require annual maintenance and energy production reports.
The language is similar to the zoning bylaw dealing with residential wind turbines recently developed by the AEC and accepted at Town Meeting, noted AEC member Roger Race.
“We cloned the previous one, and just added some specific language dealing with bigger machines (turbines),” he explained to the Planning Board.
Both AEC members also stressed that this commercial turbine bylaw deals solely with “land-based wind-to- energy facilities” and not offshore turbines, as being proposed for Buzzards Bay in the Cape Wind project. The AEC is already working on a bylaw dealing with offshore facilities, they indicated.
Planning Board member John Sousa said the lack of any restrictions on the number of machines was a concern for him, although he recognized that a town-appointed review group or Select Board would be unlikely to endorse any plan for a large-scale wind-to-energy complex within the town’s borders.
The endless state and local environmental regulations that would be generated by any turbine facility close to the shoreline also make any bay-side sites likely locations for a wind farm, Mr. Sousa suggested, doubtful any waterfront locations would be feasible even if they were obtained by a developer.
At Mr. Sousa’s suggestion, everyone in attendance agreed that a ban on overhead wiring at any site be added to the bylaw’s provisions.
A public hearing on the final draft of the proposed bylaw will be held by the Planning Board on Sept. 17 at Town Hall. Draft copies will be available from their office before the hearing.
Town meeting members will want to be assured that large-scale facilities are unlikely in Dartmouth, but need to be addressed, said Planning Board member John Horan.
“To be feasible, they (wind farms) need wide-open areas, without any trees,” to operate efficiently, explained Dr. DiPippo. He couldn’t think of any such potential sites for big wind farms, noting “this is not California, where they have barren hills, or mountain ridges” or open desert, he noted.
Most likely in this area would be 20 to 50 KW commercial turbines for farm or business use, the professor believes. “In our lifetime, if we see more than two 1.5 MW turbines in Dartmouth, I’ll be surprised,” he added.
Mr. Race agreed, noting they are much more common in Europe, where governments are actively encouraging wind-to-energy farms with “tremendous incentives to developers.”
Those energy credits are around 25 cents per kilowatt hour in Europe, while only about 1.5 cents per KWH here, Dr. DiPippo noted.
“If this country would provide those kinds of incentives to private developers, we’d have windmills everywhere,” he suggested.
By Robert Barboza
5 September 2007
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