MANCHESTER – A proposed town bylaw spurred by Manchester Athletic Club’s plan to build a wind turbine on its Atwater Avenue land may run into opposition from the club itself.
Club officials have been investigating building a wind turbine to power their facility for over a year but have expressed concern that the town’s zoning laws do not account for windmills.
Last year John Donovan, the club’s owner, asked selectmen to consider drafting a new bylaw to specifically govern wind power projects so that his company would know what kind of requirements it would have to meet to receive a permit.
This week the Planning Board, which has been working on the issue for months, placed a proposed bylaw on this year’s annual Town Meeting warrant that would establish guidelines and streamline the permitting process for windmill projects on land north of Route 128.
The bylaw would free those looking to build turbines in the town’s Limited Commercial District, all of which is north of Route 128, from getting height and use variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals. The only permit required would be a special permit from the Planning Board.
But yesterday, Keith Callahan, general manager for Manchester Athletic Club, said two of the conditions in the bylaw – one concerning how far a windmill could be from the nearest property line and another limiting how much electricity generated by the project could be sold back to the power grid – could create a significant burden on the club’s project.
Callahan said if the Planning Board did not consider revising those conditions, the athletic club might consider opposing the bylaw at Town Meeting.
“Everything else in the bylaw makes sense, but those two are difficult for us,” Callahan said. “If we cannot sell enough power back into the grid, it will make the project inviable.”
The “sell-back” provision, intended to discourage commercial wind farms, requires any wind power project to use at least 50 percent of the electricity it generates for its own use.
Callahan said to make back its investment in a wind turbine, a company would need to sell as much power to the power grid as possible.
“What if I have a year with no wind and I use all of it myself, and then next we have a windy year?” Callahan said. “That is an arbitrary number that is punitive and illogical. States and local governments should want that energy pumped back into the grid.”
The “setback” provision would require the distance a turbine is located from the nearest property line to be 50 feet more than the height of the structure.
Callahan said the athletic club was considering a windmill between 200 feet and 300 feet tall. The proposed location of the turbine is around 300 feet away from the nearest property line, and the extra 50 feet could pose a problem if the bylaw passes, he said.
Planning Board Chairman Gary Gilbert said yesterday he was surprised the athletic club would consider opposing the bylaw. He said the two sections in the measure the club was concerned about could be amended before Town Meeting and, even if they weren’t, the Planning Board has discretion to weigh each case and issue special permits for projects regardless.
“The Planning Board has the right to vary the regulations based on particular situations if an applicant makes a case,” Gilbert said. “There is a lot of argument about the 50 percent usage one. I don’t think it would prevent a project from going forward.”
Gilbert said the Planning Board would consider making changes to the bylaw when it holds a public hearing on it March 24.
Currently a 165-foot test tower, erected last month to collect wind and weather information, stands on the site
The athletic club received a $39,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, a quasi-state agency that promotes renewable energy use, to build the test tower. The tower will be up for another 12 to 18 months and will help the club determine whether the site is viable for a larger, permanent wind turbine.
Callahan estimated the turbine could cost between $1 million and $1.5 million, depending on how large it is.
Callahan said if the bylaw is not approved, the athletic club would most likely not try to get the windmill approved through variances.
In addition to the setback and sell-back provisions, the bylaw would establish a maximum height for turbines, 410 feet from tip of the highest blade to the ground.
The bylaw would require windmill builders to put money in an account that the town could use to dismantle the structure if it fell out of use.
Gilbert said if the bylaw is approved, the Planning Board would still have the ability to deny wind projects if it believed they would have a negative visual impact on the surrounding area.
“We all know you will get some people dead set against them because they don’t want to see them anywhere on Earth,” Gilbert said. “But there will be twice as many people who think they are a joy to look at and where the world needs to go.”
By Patrick Anderson
28 February 2008
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