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WELLFLEET – Town officials are moving ahead with plans to place a windmill on town land a half-mile from Ocean View Drive. But opponents are organizing as well, albeit loosely, to gather information and form a coalition as critical decisions appear on the horizon.
At the April 26 annual town meeting, voters have an opportunity to renew their support or openly oppose the $5.3 million turbine planned for the woods near White Crest Beach, in the Cape Cod National Seashore.
A zoning article, added to the town warrant Tuesday by the board of selectmen, would increase the maximum allowable blade height of the turbine from 400 to 415 feet. The expanded height would accommodate a newer, more powerful turbine, according to Geof Karlson, chairman of the Wellfleet Energy Committee.
Two other zoning articles – one a petition by turbine opponent and resident Dennis O’Connell and another by the town energy committee – propose a balloon or crane test at the turbine site. The test would last at least six daylight hours to illustrate how high the hub and blades of the windmill will be, according to town records. The planning board will consider the three articles at an April 7 public hearing.
The balloon test would give people “a very clear picture of what this will look like,” said selectmen chairman Dale Donovan. O’Connell said yesterday he would likely support the town’s article, given that it generally mirrors what he originally proposed.
“I got what I wanted,” O’Connell said. “A balloon test needs to be done.”
Last spring, town meeting voters approved a key zoning amendment allowing municipal windmills by special permit in the town’s Seashore zoning district. In the fall of 2009, town meeting voters authorized borrowing $290,000 for initial surveys, permitting and other pre-construction activities for one turbine.
The board of selectmen unanimously endorsed both 2009 zoning articles.
Town officials are planning the turbine as a way to eliminate the annual $185,000 electric bill for municipal buildings and to pay other expenses at a time when town finances are tight, according to Donovan. He also argued that the 200-acre, town-owned parcel in the Seashore on which the turbine will stand has been little used for the town’s benefit, apart from beach restrooms and a parking lot.
The estimated annual revenue from the turbine is $339,907, from a 20-year financial projection, according to town records. In theory, the bulk of the revenue would be from a financial credit issued to the town by NStar electric company, Karlson said.
Wellfleet is one of at least three towns on the Lower Cape planning multimillion-dollar wind turbine projects, according to the Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative Inc.
But others in town believe the selectmen are uninformed about the technical details and risks of the turbine proposal. Opponents also say the selectmen and other supporters rely on generalizations about renewable energy that don’t necessarily apply to this project.
“The perception is that windmills are benign, are good for the environment, make money, save taxes and reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said O’Connell, the former chairman of the town planning board and a spokesman for Save Our Seashore. “I must say, I feel I can challenge every one of them.”
Save Our Seashore is one of at least three groups formed in recent months to combat the turbine project. An initiative called Save Our Woods on the Facebook social networking site was developed by resident Virginia Parker, who lives near the proposed turbine site. A Wellfleet couple, Preston Ribnick and Lilli Green, have recently formed Citizens for Responsible Green Wellfleet.
The closest house to the turbine would be about a half-mile away, Karlson said.
The woods near the turbine would be disturbed with a 1.4-acre clearing for a road, a 2.7-acre clearing for the turbine itself and about an acre clearing for installation of a power line, Karlson said. The one acre for the power line would be allowed to grow back to its natural state, he said.
“There are communities of all sizes all over the world that are saying there are significant, significant issues around these giant wind turbines,” Ribnick said Tuesday.
One primary issue is placement of the turbine within the Seashore boundaries, said O’Connell. That violates what visitors “expect from (national) parks” and what was envisioned with the Seashore was created in 1961, he said. The turbine will be noisy and create flickering shadows and vibrations, and an unwanted structure above the tree line, he said. It will affect the enjoyment of wooded trails, O’Connell said.
He added that he believes the revenue projections rely on subsidies that could and likely will evaporate over time, leaving the town in financial jeopardy.
“I’m concerned that the town is going down a wrong path,” O’Connell said.
The town energy committee expects in the late summer to apply for the special permit needed to construct the turbine, and then ask town meeting voters for borrowing authorization to pay for the construction at a fall town meeting, Karlson said.
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