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Essex planners willing to tweak wind-energy bylaw  

ESSEX – Looking to encourage the use of renewable wind energy while protecting the rights of residents wary of large windmills looming above the countryside, Planning Board members say they are open to tweaking parts of their proposed wind-energy bylaw at Town Meeting.

Tow Meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. Monday, May 5, at Essex Elementary School.

The bylaw would clear the way for home and business owners to attach turbines to their buildings as long as they meet size, noise and appearance guidelines. It would also set limits on the size and location of more traditional free-standing structures, which would still require a special permit, but not be required to get a variance.

Although the bylaw is intended to encourage the use of wind power units for homes and businesses and would allow small attached units “by right,” some turbine-conscious residents say the size restrictions as written could prohibit the same kind of units they are meant to encourage.

“Where they are going wrong is they are looking to encourage a windmill that doesn’t exist,” Southern Avenue resident and former Selectman Bruce Fortier said yesterday.

Fortier said provisions in the article restricting house-mounted turbines to exceeding the height of a building by only 20 percent would make it impractical for many homeowners to use them and substantially limit the economic incentive to build them.

The maximum building height allowed under current local regulations is 35 feet, which would allow a 7-foot turbine on top.

He said for buildings with slanted or gabled roofs where the official building height is not measured at the highest point, the turbines would have to be installed below the top of a house, in its “wind shadow.”

“The height would have to be lower than the roof and the wind would be blocked,” Fortier said. “It would be useless.”

Fortier, who said he had been interested in building a wind turbine on his property, said the bylaw unfairly favors house-mounted units over free-standing structures and favors new vertically mounted designs over the traditional horizontal units.

He also said the location of the proposed bylaw, in the special permit section of the existing bylaws, could require even turbines falling within the guidelines for house-mounted units to apply for special permits.

Planning Board member William Holton said his research indicated that many new turbines on the market were available that would fit effectively within the height restrictions.

“I would be open to an amendment (at Town Meeting), but you have to put a limit on it somewhere,” Holton said. “The smaller ones that are mounted on houses do not require a great deal of height.”

He said the board had not discussed how building height is measured for slanted roofs, but that it could play a factor in turbine height.

Holton said he was not concerned about locating the new provisions within the special permit section of the bylaws, as town attorneys had gone over the text and assured the board it would not require homeowners to get special permits or site plan reviews for the small “by right” turbines.

Planning Board member Robert Fitzgibbon said the board had no intention of making residents with house-mounted units come to them for approval.

“If it is within those guidelines, we don’t want to see them,” he said.

For turbines not attached to buildings, the new bylaw would bar units on free-standing towers from exceeding 150 feet and would require them to be located one-and-a-quarter times their height away from the nearest property line, public road or utility lines. Owners would be required to get a special permit from the Planning Board, but not a variance.

Holton said the Planning Board had reached a consensus on not wanting large commercial wind farms or towers in town since the lack of large, elevated, open parcels in Essex makes such endeavors better suited to other towns.

The bylaw also includes restrictions for color, lighting, and signage. It would require any abandoned windmill to be removed at the owner’s expense.

The bylaw does not allow more than one turbine per acre of land, which, combined with the height restrictions, would make commercial wind farms in Essex unlikely.

“We have tried to cover everything,” Holton said. “I know it is not perfect, but we will see what happens.”

By Patrick Anderson
Staff writer

Gloucester Daily Times

29 April 2008

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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