September 13, 2010

Ashfield tries to get ahead of windmill issue

By Diane Broncaccio, Recorder Staff, The Recorder, 11 September 2010

ASHFIELD – With a few wind-turbine proposals in the air – and prospects that a state wind-energy siting reform bill may resurface – the Selectboard wants to create an advisory board to research siting criteria pertinent to Ashfield.

“Our whole plan is to stay ahead of the curve,” said Selectboard Chairman R. Dave DeHerdt. “We anticipate there will be (wind-turbine) applications, and we need to be ready. There will be engineering costs that the Planning Board will have to assess the applicants, because the Planning Board doesn’t have the expertise to do the engineering assessments.”

In July, two wind-turbine proposals surfaced, galvanizing both opponents and proponents in town. One proposal, by Clear Sky Energy LLC of Barnstable, called for four to eight wind-turbines, about 400 feet tall, to be built on Ridge Hill, between Ashfield Mountain and Baptist Corner Road. An informational meeting held on that proposal drew an audience of at least 100 people. So far, there was one public discussion, but no specific proposal has surfaced.

Another proposal, which went through the Planning Board, was for a special permit to install a 160-foot anemometer on land off Cape Street owned by the Mark Leue family to collect and transmit wind data to the University of Massachusetts’ Wind Energy Center. After 15 months of data collection, if wind conditions on the 1,700-foot-high plateau are suitable for electricity generation, the nonprofit ECHO for Sustainable Development of Springfield may propose a turbine project on or near that property. After two nights of public hearings, the Planning Board unanimously granted a special permit for the anemometer.

However, Savino J. and Marguerite Basile of Cape Street, abutting property owner, have appealed the Planing Board decision, based in part on the fact that the town does not have special permitting criteria for either meteorological towers or for wind turbines in the “rural, residential and agricultural” zoning district. The appeal was filed July 30.

The Selectboard is also looking at setting up a “wind energy-siting bylaw committee” to propose a bylaw on wind-turbine siting that could eventually be brought to town meeting for a vote. But the board is also concerned about how to establish such a Committee, considering how contentious the issue of wind turbines has become.

DeHerdt pointed out that any town bylaw regarding wind-turbine siting would have to hold up in court; he said the laws cannot be written in such a way as to make wind-turbine siting impossible.

He said it’s likely that the Legislature will again be looking at statewide wind-energy siting bills then it resumes session in January. He said having residents with knowledge and experience with the issue would be an asset.

Resident Paulette Leukhardt suggested that town officials look at other wind-siting bylaws in other towns. Hawley has a Wind Facility Bylaw that was approved in 2005 and which restricts wind-turbine height to 200 feet.

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