The Planning Board tonight will examine whether to make changes to a proposed town bylaw that would streamline permitting for wind power projects north of Route 128, but set limits on their size and how they can be used.
The board began working on the bylaw after Manchester Athletic Club proposed building a windmill on its Atwater Avenue property last year and asked for guidance on what it would need to get a permit.
Realizing existing zoning regulations did not account for windmills, the board began drafting a new bylaw and, after months of work, placed it on this year’s annual Town Meeting warrant.
The bylaw would free those looking to build wind turbines north of Route 128 from having to get height and use variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals and require them to only get a special permit from the Planning Board.
But the bylaw – with an eye toward prohibiting commercial wind farms – would require any wind power project to use at least 50 percent of the electricity it generates for its own use and establish setback guidelines for how far a unit needs to be from the nearest property line.
Those provisions drew fire from Manchester Athletic Club representatives, who said the measures would limit how large a turbine could be built and how profitable it could be. Club officials said they may decide to oppose the bylaw if those sections of it are not changed.
On Friday, Planning Board Chairman Richard Blau said the public hearing would be a chance for the board to gather opinions about the bylaw and then hash out whether any amendments to the bylaw can be made or should be at Town Meeting.
“We will discuss it and see if there is anything we can change or would change in an amendment at Town Meeting, or if the bylaw is fatally flawed,” Blau said.
The rules of Town Meeting allow the scope or reach of bylaws to be reduced by amendments – but do not permit them to be expanded. Decisions about what amendments would be allowed are made by the town moderator. Blau said if the bylaw appears to require too many changes or changes that are too severe, the board could vote to not support it at Town Meeting.
Manchester Athletic Club has discussed constructing a windmill between 200 and 300 feet in height that it estimates could cost more than $1 million to build.
Keith Callahan, general manager for the club, said in February that the club was worried that the 50 percent on-site usage requirement could prevent it from recouping some of the project’s cost by selling energy into the grid.
The setback provision, which would require all windmills to be 50 feet more than the height of the turbine away from the nearest property line, could cause the club to make its tower much shorter, and less powerful, then it was planning.
In addition to the setback and sell-back provisions, the bylaw would establish a maximum height for turbines of 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.
The Planning Board is scheduled to meet tonight at 7 in Room 5 at Town Hall.
By Patrick Anderson
24 March 2008
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