AMESBURY – Spinnaker Power received a $55,000 grant from the state last week to study wind speeds in anticipation of building a 1.5-megawatt turbine at Pender Farm on Middle Road.
But until Amesbury’s Planning Board passes a set of amended zoning bylaws to allow wind turbines to be installed within town limits, there’s little chance that a turbine will become a fixture on the Amesbury skyline.
According to Building Inspector Denis Nadeau, without bylaws specifically written to allow for the unusually large structures, they simply can’t be built.
“The problem with turbines is, right now we have no bylaw regulating them, and per the zoning regulations under MGL Chapter 48, if it’s not listed in the zoning books, it’s not allowed,” said Nadeau. “It doesn’t mean that if it’s not listed you can do it anywhere. It means it’s not allowed.”
Spinnaker, a Beverly firm incorporated in 2008, has been granted $55,000 by the state-run Clean Energy Center, formerly the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative, to conduct a wind feasibility study at the Pender property.
The firm intends to conduct the study with help from Meridien Associates and collect wind data through the use of a 340-foot meteorological (MET) tower. But while the firm may easily get the green light for the installation of the temporary tower, slated to rise 537 feet high, Nadeau said it will be a more complicated process to get clearance for a permanently installed turbine of similar or greater height.
“Some of the ones they proposed were pretty large and what the town ends up signing for regulations, I don’t know,” said Nadeau. “The town can’t restrict them, but they can be regulated. And you have to request an amendment to the Zoning Board of Appeals to regulate them.”
In the neighboring city of Newburyport, bylaws were drafted for turbines just ahead of an application made by Mark Richey for a turbine to help power his woodworking facility. The permitting process involved a deliberation within the Zoning Board of Appeals of setbacks from surrounding homes and structures, discussion over how the turbine would affect property values of nearby residences, and other issues pertaining to possible noise and flicker effect – a phenomenon that casts a moving shadow on the landscape under certain weather conditions.
While new bylaws are not the only avenue for installation and a variance from the Zoning Board is also an option, bylaws are generally seen as the clearer path to construction. According to Town Planner Nipun Jain, the Planning Board has discussed adopting new turbine guidelines but has yet to present anything official.
It’s expected now that with the first turbine proposed for the Amesbury, the board will move to develop those amended bylaws sooner rather than later. Jain said Spinnaker has asked to be included in the dialogue on what should be allowed should any bylaws be drafted.
“We don’t (have bylaws) and that’s what we’re working on,” said Jain. “They asked us if we were working on something that was related to alternative energy facilities, and said they would like to participate in that so that they can participate in the discussion and provide any expertise that relates to new technology. We are trying to work on it, but we have not yet made it to the books.”
Spinnaker CEO Chip Kelleher has said his firm intends to build the turbine through a lease agreement with the owners of Pender Farm, offering some energy to the owners who live on the farm and selling the rest back to the area’s electricity provider, National Grid, for a profit.
“We’ll power them first and then put any additional energy back into the grid,” he said. “We go in and lease land. We own the turbines, and we profit share with the landowner. But we also have investor groups that make money off this.”
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