FITCHBURG— Gregory J. Lemay may not have won his bid to erect a wind turbine behind his home on Oak Hill Road earlier this year, but he is not giving up on his belief that alternative energy has a larger role to play in the hilly city he calls home.
Mr. Lemay and his wife, Michelle, petitioned the local Zoning Board of Appeals earlier this year for a variance to install the 120-foot tall turbine. Many nearby residents cried foul, citing safety and aesthetic concerns related to the project.
The Lemay petition was turned down, but it sparked a dialogue on the establishment of an ordinance to cover small wind power generators on private property.
Public hearings on the draft wind ordinance are scheduled for tomorrow night before both the Planning Board and the City Council. The Planning Board hearing is scheduled to start at 6:30.
“The city of Fitchburg finds that wind energy is an abundant, renewable and nonpolluting energy resource and that its conversion to electricity will reduce our dependence on nonrenewable energy resources, and decrease the air and water pollution that results from the use of conventional energy sources,” the draft ordinance says. “Wind energy systems also enhance the reliability and power quality of the power grid, reduce peak power demands and help diversify the state’s energy supply portfolio.”
The ordinance is designed for small wind energy systems that would “reduce the on-site consumption of utility-supplied electricity,” not for commercial power generators.
Planning Coordinator David J. Streb said the draft emerged after a petition went before the City Council seeking adoption of a wind ordinance. But there wasn’t anything to adopt yet, Mr. Streb said, hence the draft that is the subject of this week’s hearings.
The draft ordinance would give the Planning Board authority to grant special permits for wind turbines in any zoning district in the city. The full text of the draft is available on the city’s Web site at www.ci.fitchburg.ma.us.
The draft says wind systems would have to be set back from the nearest property line and public street by a distance of 1.1 times the turbine’s total height, unless appropriate easements are secured from adjacent property owners. The systems would also have to be set back a distance 1.5 times the turbine’s height from any inhabited dwelling on a neighboring property.
Restrictions on noise and appearance of the units are also outlined in the draft up for review this week.
Mr. Lemay said the draft ordinance is a starting point, but only that.
“You’d have to own acres of land in order to make all the restrictions of this draft,” said Mr. Lemay, whose own turbine plans would not pass muster if this version of the ordinance were in place.
He said the city will need to make amendments if it wants to be serious about the potential of wind power.
“They need to get all the information and take a serious look at it,” Mr. Lemay said. “Don’t just push it through to say you have an ordinance that nobody in the city can use.”
Mr. Lemay, who said he had been asked by Mayor-elect Lisa A. Wong to serve on a task force studying alternative energy, speculated that his proposal would have gotten a warmer reception if oil costs were higher. As those costs rise, he continued, more people will be looking to find other energy sources.
City Council President Jody M. Joseph said alternative energy is the way of the future.
“It’s just the right thing to do,” he said. “We should have a pretty open policy to wind power. I would hate to see it overly restricted.”
He said “not in my backyard” concerns about wind turbines or solar panels or other renewable sources of energy had to be put aside.
“Sooner or later you’ve got to get over it,” Mr. Joseph said.
Mayor Dan H. Mylott, who said he was pleased with the ZBA vote on the Lemay proposal, said there is a balance that must be struck.
“I think, as a concept, wind energy is important, but there are concerns the community has,” Mr. Mylott said. “We should understand there are neighborhood issues that cannot be ignored.”
By Matthew Bruun
17 December 2007
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