The possibility that four commercial wind turbines, more than 400 feet tall each, could be installed in North Eastham near the old Tilcon Plant drove the homeowners in that neighborhood to petition 2007 town meeting with a zoning bylaw that would have made it very difficult, if not impossible, to install commercial turbines of that height in town.
The town countered with its own proposed zoning bylaw to allow commercial turbines, but when town meeting convened, both the town and the backers of the petitioned article agreed to withdraw their proposals, with the understanding that an ad hoc committee would review both proposed bylaws and come up with a compromise.
The committee presented its proposed bylaw to the selectmen last fall. The selectmen made some changes to make it more possible for commercial turbines to be installed in town, with the intent of presenting it to the town meeting this year.
But those changes did not sit well with the former ad hoc committee members, who have submitted the bylaw they presented to selectmen for townspeople to consider in May, once again as a petitioned article on the warrant.
So again, voters will have two proposed commercial wind zoning bylaws to consider, along with a proposed zoning bylaw for private wind facilities that could possibly be shared by several homeowners.
The planning board will hold a public hearing on all three proposed zoning bylaws at 5 p.m. Wednesday, March 26, at town hall.
Monday, selectmen discussed both the committee’s petitioned bylaw and the town’s, which was prepared by Selectman Martin McDonald. McDonald took parts of the committee’s proposed bylaw in drawing it up, and the private wind facility proposed bylaw.
Selectwoman Carol Martin said she was concerned the zoning bylaw for private wind facilities did not require a minimum of one acre of land.
McDonald said one citizen last year complained that it was “unfairly restrictive” to require one acre since someone might have a smaller lot yet would still be able to meet all setback requirements.
Selectman Dave Schropfer said he approved of making it possible for two or more abutting properties to share the ownership and reap the benefits of a private wind turbine. “I think we’ll see people wanting to do this with electrical rates the way they are, and the price of oil going up,” he said. “I’m not opposed to having less than one acre.”
The committee’s petitioned bylaw for commercial wind turbines calls for setbacks of 1,000 feet in all directions.
The town’s commercial bylaw proposes the setback be a minimum of 1.5 times the blade tip height to the nearest residential property line.
McDonald said the petitioned zoning bylaw’s setback of 1,000 feet would apply to a commercial turbine whether it is 200 feet or 300 feet high.”
That zoning bylaw, if adopted, would essentially require 90 acres of land for a commercial turbine, he said. “To my knowledge we don’t have a 90-acre property in this town. This article basically prohibits a commercial wind turbine.”
Schropfer said he calculated that the ad hoc committee’s petitioned bylaw would require “a substantial amount of space,” that Eastham, as a small town, does not have.
The state, Schropfer said, has not yet mandated that towns provide a certain amount of their own energy, but that is something that is going to happen down the line. “We don’t have any plans to have an energy plant, but if we are going to meet the state requirements, because we are a tiny peninsula, we are going to have to go to some kind of wind energy and this article clearly restricts that,” he said, referring to the committee’s petitioned bylaw.
McDonald said the town’s proposed bylaw would require a minimum 30 acres for a commercial turbine, “We have a better chance of finding 30 acres than we do with finding 90,” he said.
Paul Lothrop, chairman of the board of health, who is running for selectman this year, asked selectmen if they were thinking of taking people’s property through eminent domain so that commercial wind turbines could be built.
“No,” said Linda Burt, chairwoman of the board, as the other selectmen echoed that sentiment.
Schropfer said there are other parts of town that could be considered for a commercial turbine other than the original site by the old Tilcon plant, but he did not say where those sites would be.
“I understand that you are pushing something that is an impossibility,” Lothrop said. “You are pushing it to the point of dividing this town down the middle. You know that you can’t do turbines up there, because you don’t have the property to do that. And if you don’t have the property, then you’ll have to take people’s property by eminent domain or buy them out. I don’t know why you are so adamant about an impossible approach to a problem you can’t solve, since you don’t own the land.”
“If we don’t have a bylaw on the books, there would be no restrictions,” McDonald countered.
“You charged the ad hoc committee with coming up with a bylaw and you promptly tore it in half,” Lothrop said.
Burt brought the discussion to an end, saying, “It is not going to be easy to place wind turbines in our town.”
By Marilyn Miller
21 March 2008
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