WEST BARNSTABLE – Land-based wind energy projects on Cape Cod face a barrage of opposition and legal hurdles as local officials continue to grapple with how to harness the region’s most valuable renewable energy resource while balancing concerns from neighbors and other groups.
Opponents of existing and planned wind turbines have raised concerns about wildlife, safety and public health, but a recent court ruling sets a precedent that could limit the construction of turbines along a swath of property from Sandwich to Orleans based solely on historic considerations.
In a decision handed down a week ago, a Barnstable District Court judge upheld a decision by the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission blocking a turbine planned for Cape Cod Community College. The historic district includes large chunks of land located north of Route 6 in six Cape towns.
The regional historic district panel based its decision to deny the project on rational grounds, Judge Joan Lynch wrote in her decision to grant a summary judgment in favor of the regional commission.
“The plaintiffs’ arguments that the committee did not consider the ‘energy advantage’ of the wind turbine and that certain members of the committee demonstrated a general bias against the device are without merit,” Lynch wrote.
College officials are now waiting on guidance from the state Division of Capital Asset Management, college spokesman Michael Gross said Friday. “It’s very frustrating for us,” he said.
The college believes students would have benefited from having a turbine on campus to study, Gross said.
“At this point we’re stymied,” he said, adding that the broader implications for other turbine projects across the regional historic district are “most unfortunate.”
The Division of Capital and Asset Management is reviewing the court ruling, according to the agency’s spokeswoman, Martha McMahon.
The District Court ruling comes as Dennis officials and the owners of a Dennis-based aquaculture facility continue to contemplate a legal challenge of the historic district commission’s decision to deny a project there.
“We are not making any decision until we see what the written filing is from the regional commission,” said Gail Hart, vice president of Aquaculture Research Corp., the company that wants to install a 164-foot-tall turbine on its property near Chapin Memorial Beach. The written decision is expected out next week.
All of the decisions by the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission are site-specific, said Peter Lomenzo, chairman of the panel and the Dennis Old King’s Highway Historic District Commission.
The District Court’s decision appears to support the regional historic district commission’s process as fair to applicants and neighboring property owners, he said.
In the future, regional and local historic district committees could designate areas of a district as “exempt,” where turbines might be allowed, he said.
“We are trying very hard to find a way to help this to happen,” Lomenzo said of wind turbine construction. “We’re not against alternative energy. At the same time, we are for the historic district of the Cape.”
Historic district panels are not the only organizations struggling with the regulation of wind energy projects.
The Cape Cod Commission is proposing regulations for wind turbines only for projects that would already come under its purview as so-called developments of regional impact, commission executive director Paul Niedzwiecki said.
On Thursday, opponents of wind projects, primarily neighbors of the wind turbine at the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility, voiced concern over wind energy regulations at a hearing on the proposed rules held by a subcommittee of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates. The hearing was continued to a later date following extensive testimony.
“I think there’s some people who feel that since the regs don’t go far enough, then we shouldn’t have them at all,” Niedzwiecki said, adding wind turbine opponents may be inadvertently aiding wind energy supporters by delaying the regulations.
The proposed Cape Cod Commission regulations could require a more extensive noise study of a turbine proposal than what is now required, he said.
Neighbors of the turbine at the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility on Blacksmith Shop Road, where noise from the turbine has been the primary complaint, believe the proposed regulations need to be more stringent.
The setback from residential homes should be at least one mile for large turbines rather than the 600 feet that would be allowed under the proposed regulations, said Neil Andersen, who lives a quarter mile from the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility turbine.
“They are totally off on that proposal,” he said.
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