BARNSTABLE – After two days of passionate debate, a Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates committee on government regulations has given its stamp of approval to proposed wind energy rules for projects reviewed by the Cape Cod Commission.
The committee narrowly recommended the proposed regulations, 3-2, Wednesday after two hours of public testimony from more than a dozen people at the Assembly of Delegates chamber inside the Barnstable District Courthouse. A previous day of testimony Oct. 20 was continued because of the large number of people who wanted to speak.
The full 15-member assembly is expected to vote on the proposed rules at its next meeting Nov. 17.
The proposed rules focus on minimum performance standards for three aspects of wind energy projects: safety, noise and so-called shadow flicker that occurs as a wind turbine’s blades pass in front of the sun.
The rules would only affect turbines that are part of larger projects that trigger review by the Cape Cod Commission as a so-called development of regional impact, said the regional planning and regulatory agency’s executive director, Paul Niedzwiecki.
Without the proposed rules, the Cape Cod Commission would be unable to impose any standards at all for wind energy projects, he said. “We have no ability to review projects now,” Niedzwiecki said.
The proposed rules call for a setback from a neighboring property owner’s buildings of 1.5 times the height of a turbine. For turbines that generate one megawatt or more of electricity, the rules would also require a noise study and proof that there are no adverse health effects from flicker.
Technical bulletins developed by the Cape Cod Commission would fill in details included in the proposed rules, Niedzwiecki said. “I think this is a commonsense first step,” he said of the regulation committee’s recommendations.
The proposed rules are intended to protect local communities from unwanted wind energy projects in the face of an aggressive push from Gov. Deval Patrick’s administration to increase the state’s wind energy capacity.
Although state lawmakers failed to enact a bill in the last legislative session that wind energy critics say would have eliminated local control over siting turbines, the bill will likely become law next year, Niedzwiecki said.
Opponents of locating wind turbines near residential homes are not convinced the county will protect their interests.
“The town of Falmouth has done a noise study and that noise study was flawed,” said Malcolm Donald of Falmouth, adding that the state’s noise regulations have been misapplied by the town.
Neighbors of a turbine erected at Falmouth’s wastewater treatment facility have complained about noise and associated health problems caused by the operation of the 400-foot structure.
Turbine manufacturer Vestas suggests that people stay more than 1,300 feet away from its turbines, a distance equal to more than three times the height of a 400 foot turbine rather than the 600 feet that would be required under the county’s proposed rules, Donald said.
“The proposed regulations as written are ill defined, woefully incomplete and without scientific justification,” he said.
The Cape Cod Commission could rely on local zoning bylaws that address wind energy projects, according to attorney Christopher Senie, an attorney who represents neighborhood groups in Falmouth, Bourne, Wareham and Plymouth. The most important aspect of the proposed rules are the Cape Cod Commission technical bulletins and those do not exist yet, he said.
Supporters of wind energy projects have said that while concerns over noise and other health issues linked to wind turbines are important, the Falmouth wastewater facility windmill should not be used as a reason to block appropriately sited and engineered projects elsewhere.
“Every turbine is different; every siting opportunity is different,” said Richard Elrick, energy coordinator for the towns of Barnstable and Bourne.
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