Cohasset – The topic of wind turbines is a timely one.
In recent years, wind turbines on the top of one of the highest points in Cohasset elicited much discussion from residents both for and against.
The same questions came up over and over. Where are these machines appropriate? What should they look like? Do they belong in residential areas? Are the impacts on neighbors and natural beauty worth the benefits of clean and affordable energy?
Since 2007, Cohasset has had a zoning bylaw in place to govern the permitting of wind turbines. There has been one application – a private developer with a proposal for two 100-meter turbines on a hill off Route 3A – under this bylaw, which the planning board denied earlier this year.
In the wake of the denial and all the concerns with the bylaw residents raised along the way, the alternative energy committee (AEC) has been conducting a public process about a possible rewrite. Earlier this summer, committee members held two public discussions on the wind turbine bylaw and then took the information gathered and incorporated it into a new draft of the wind turbine bylaw.
Andrew Willard, chairman of the AEC, said the committee made a few substantial – and more restrictive – changes to the bylaw and sent it to the planning board for further review. The primary changes coincide with some of the major concerns brought forward during the public hearing process for the first wind turbine proposal in 2008 and 2009.
“There were three big discussion points” during the first turbine application, Willard said, referring to noise, height and setback, which were brought up as concerns repeatedly. “All three points have been made more restrictive in the new (draft) bylaw.”
The state regulation on noise – no more than a 10-decibel increase at the property line – remains in place, but the new draft also requires the wind turbine to not increase noise above ambient at any permitted residential building by more than eight decibels.
The current wind bylaw allows turbine towers of up to 100 meters, or 328 feet, to the hub. Under the new draft, the maximum height is lowered to 80 meters, or 262 feet.
To address safety concerns with the setback, the draft makes it more stringent. In the current language, there must be a setback equal to the height, including the turbines’ blades, from the nearest residential property line. In the new draft, the setback is increased to 1.5 times the height of the turbine (including the blades) to the nearest property line and at least equal to its height to any structure or road that is not a part of the turbine’s operation.
Additionally, to further protect residential buildings, a turbine can’t be built within three times its height to the nearest existing residential structure.
The newly drafted height regulations align with the state regulations.
The AEC also clearly defined the expectations for flicker impact. Instead of reading there will not be “significant shadowing or flicker impacts,” the new draft sets a clear guideline of not more than 30 minutes each day for all private structures within a half-mile of the turbine.
Willard also said discussion would continue regarding including something in the bylaw about providing an economic benefit to the town.
Although the AEC has completed its draft, the draft still has to make its way through revision and discussion with several other boards. Willard was not overly optimistic about having a new draft of the wind bylaw ready to go before November’s special Town Meeting.
Willard said the AEC plans to meet with the planning board on Wednesday, Sept. 22.
“We’ve finished wording changes and have sent our draft to the planning board,” Willard said.
Turkey Hill wind turbine project
The Trustees of Reservation are looking to place an 80-meter wind turbine on the Cohasset side of Turkey Hill. Last week, they held an informational meeting at the Cohasset Town Hall on the project. Although they have not submitted a formal application to the town, they are scheduled to have an informal meeting with the planning board on Wednesday, Sept. 1.
The alternative energy committee has met with the group as well, but its members do not feel they have enough information as of yet to take a position on the project. Sound and flicker studies are ongoing.