ASHBURNHAM – The Planning Board hosted a public forum during its Thursday night meeting to discuss changing zoning bylaws to allow for the construction of wind turbines in town.
Board Chairman John MacMillan told the eight people in attendance at the Senior Center that the discussion was the first step in a long process – that would include approval from the Planning Board and town meeting voters – before wind energy structures of any size would be built in Ashburnham.
A similar bylaw has been under consideration in neighboring Fitchburg for the last five months, and just received preliminary OK from the Fitchburg City Council Thursday night..
“This is just an introduction,” MacMillan said. “We want to get some comments and feedback from residents and see what people think.”
The bylaw changes would allow for the town to become less dependent on foreign oil, town planner Eric Smith said.
“(We) are aware of rising energy costs and its impact on town residents,” Smith said. “(We) are also aware of the environmental costs associated with continued use of fossil fuels.”
Wind energy needs to be seriously considered if people want to reduce dependence on oil, Planning Board Vice Chairman Robert MacLeod said in a telephone interview prior to the meeting.
“Bottom line is, if you start leaving our resources in the ground, you’ve got to look at alternative energy sources,” MacLeod said. “You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Municipalities’ bylaws have become one of the most significant barriers to small wind projects, according to the Massachusetts Division of Energy Resources. Because wind energy is such a new technology, most towns do not know how to regulate implementation.
Mark Carlisle, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said current laws should be amended to include language governing wind energy.
“I think it is a way to act proactively instead of reactively,” Carlisle said. “I think if this is done right, it could be a huge boost for the town.”
Among other wind-related topics, the forum’s participants also discussed constructing a commercial wind power facility in town – which would require winds going more than 14 mph to be economically feasible, according to the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative.
Land on top of Little Watatic Mountain and private property located on the south-eastern side of Mt. Watatic and Byfield Road all produce enough wind for such a facility, Smith said.
Resident Claire Deucher said a wind energy facility near Mount Watatic could harm local birds and animals.
“The board needs to consider that that area is part of a migration path for birds,” Deucher said. “To have a windmill kill any of these creatures … I would be very disappointed.”
MacMillan clarified if a windmill was built, it would be on the side of Mount Watatic, not the peak.
Chris Picone, chairman of the Conservation Commission and an environmental science professor at Fitchburg State College, said a switch to wind energy would do more good to the environment, if anything.
“I’ve heard people discuss animals and war, but I’d like to throw in climate change,” Picone said. “I think that is one of the most pressing issues we are facing.”
The board agreed to further investigate the matter following Thursday night’s meeting.
By Brian Lepire
8 February 2008
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