BARNSTABLE – In the face of fierce opposition, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates has rejected standards for local wind energy projects, calling the proposed regulations too lenient.
Instead, the county’s legislative body may now consider a yearlong moratorium on all wind turbines across Cape Cod, potentially setting county officials at odds with state policies and wind energy proponents.
In a nearly unanimous vote Wednesday, the assembly rejected a proposed amendment to the energy section of the Cape Cod Commission’s Regional Policy Plan, leaving the planning and regulatory agency with little authority over wind turbines that fall under its review.
“It seems counterintuitive not to have standards on the books,” Cape Cod Commission executive director Paul Niedzwiecki said before the vote. The amendment to the policy plan would have included three standards for wind turbines that fall under the commission’s review as part of larger projects.
The proposed rules included a minimum setback between a turbine and structures on a neighbor’s property, a standard for noise from turbines and a standard for so-called flicker caused by a turbine’s blades passing in front of the sun. The rules would not have affected projects already built or approved, such as those in Falmouth and Bourne.
Opponents of the proposed rules contend the setback is inadequate and the noise and flicker standards are based on yet-to-be completed technical bulletins. They also have argued that the commission can rely on local bylaws or reject projects based on a more general benefits-versus-detriments test, contentions Niedzwiecki said are ill-founded.
Many local bylaws are obsolete when it comes to wind energy projects, he said. In the rare cases in which the Cape Cod Commission has denied a project solely on a benefits-versus-detriments analysis, the decision has been susceptible to appeal, he said.
Opponents of wind power projects sited near neighborhoods who have come out in force against the proposed regulations were unmoved by Niedzwiecki’s logic.
The proposed rules would not cover every large turbine that is built on Cape Cod, said Christopher Senie, an attorney who represents residents in Falmouth and Bourne who are fighting existing and proposed wind energy projects near their homes.
Any new rules should instead trigger Cape Cod Commission jurisdiction over all turbine projects, Senie said.
The proposed rule regarding noise from turbines is not really a standard, the attorney said. The proposed rules call for a noise study but do not outline any particular standard for what constitutes adverse noise impacts, he said.
“I don’t think what you have before you is certain enough,” Senie said.
Many assembly members also found the proposed rules inadequate.
The assembly has never been in a position in which the developers being regulated wholeheartedly agree with the rules and concerned citizens do not, said Falmouth’s representative, Julia Taylor. “This is really backwards and I don’t understand it, except that it means the regulations are not strict enough or clear enough,” she said.
Assemblyman Thomas Keyes of Sandwich, a professed fan of the free market, asked about the possibility of imposing a Capewide district of critical planning concern for wind.
The planning area would set rules across the Cape for wind energy projects and would immediately prompt a moratorium on projects that could last up to a year. “I’m shocked I’m even saying that,” Keyes said.
Elected boards on the Cape, including the assembly, can propose such a planning area, Niedzwiecki said. “The power is in your hands,” he said.
While county officials consider their options, the assembly asked Niedzwiecki to go back to the drawing board to craft an ordinance that would reflect the concerns raised by assembly members and the public, including the possible thresholds such as height that might trigger a commission review of a wind turbine project.
Despite voting with the majority to send the proposed regulations back to be reworked, the assembly’s speaker, Ronald Bergstrom of Chatham, warned that any move against wind energy could lead to a confrontation with state officials and pro-wind groups.
“If you push too hard, there’s going to be push-back,” he said.
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