The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates this week rejected proposed review standards for land-based wind turbines, and is considering an unprecedented step to protect Cape Cod while those regulations undergo further review.
The ordinance would have amended the energy section of the county’s Regional Policy Plan (RPP) and established minimum performance standards for safety, noise from the turbine’s operation, and “shadow flicker” from a turbine’s spinning blades.
The draft safety standard calls for “a clear area of 1.5 times the tip height” of the turbine “from any structure outside the applicant’s development site.” Example: a turbine that measures 200 feet from ground to the tip of its blade at the peak of their rotation would require a 300 foot minimum setback.
Project applicants would be able to negotiate a smaller setback with adjacent property owners “provided that the reduction would not pose a threat to life or property.”
The noise standard requires all projects involving a turbine of one megawatt (MW) capacity or greater to conduct a noise study, the results of which would be verified by a consultant hired by the Cape Cod Commission.
The shadow flicker standard, which also applies to one MW or larger turbines, requires developers to prove “no adverse shadow flicker impacts” to nearby residential properties.
Over the course of four hours’ worth of subcommittee hearings held in October and November, two main arguments emerged. On the pro side, voiced most notably by Paul J. Niedzwiecki, director of the Cape Cod Commission, putting these standards in place would guarantee that Cape Codders retained local control over wind turbine siting.
Mr. Niedzwiecki noted that the Patrick Administration is pushing wind energy development across the state, and is pursuing a streamlined permitting process for turbines of two megawatt capacity or greater. Without strong local controls, he said there was a risk of the state dictating standards for the region.
He refuted arguments that local zoning bylaws could serve, at least temporarily, in place of a regional policy as many of those bylaws are “inadequate” when it comes to wind turbines. “They were drafted and conceived when we were talking about much smaller scale projects than we’re seeing right now,” he said, such as turbine projects in Bourne and Falmouth.
Opponents, many of them Falmouth residents living near the town-owned turbine on Blacksmith Shop Road, maintained during the hearings that the setback standards were inadequate. They also argued that the proposal had no turbine-specific threshold for triggering a Cape Cod Commission review, which could allow many projects to be built without ever undergoing Commission scrutiny.
Under the amendments turbines would be reviewed only if part of a project that was subject to review as per Development of Regional Impact (DRI) standards.
Julia C. Taylor, Falmouth’s delegate, said for her the telling sign that the standards might be inadequate was the fact that wind turbine developers seemed to be completely in favor of the proposed RPP changes, while residents were complete against them – the reverse of what she normally sees in debates over new regulation.
“This is really backwards,” she said, “and I think it means the regulations are not strict enough, or not clear enough.”
The Assembly voted overwhelmingly to reject the proposed RPP amendments and asked the Cape Cod Commission to review the performance standards. The delegates from Barnstable, Bourne, Falmouth, Mashpee, and Sandwich all voted in favor of sending the ordinance back to the Commission.
Prior to voting on the ordinance, Sandwich Delegate Thomas F. Keyes threw out a proposal that, he admitted, was a radical idea for him: initiating a Cape-wide District of Critical Planning Concern (DCPC) process.
“I am not a big government type, by any means,” he said before suggesting that a DCPC might be the best way to give the county sufficient time to draft standards acceptable to all parties. “I’m shocked I’m even saying that.”
Mr. Keyes said for him the issue was of “encroachment on people’s lives, people’s personal private property rights…we have to protect them sometimes.”
The act of simply filing a formal DCPC nomination places a temporary moratorium on the relevant development, in this case wind turbines, and when approved by the Assembly activates a moratorium for up to 12 months, during which time the county can develop regulations without fear of developers sneaking in a new project.
Mr. Niedzwiecki said any town or county government body, including the Assembly, can propose a DCPC, but it would be a highly unusual move for the Assembly or Barnstable County Board of County Commissioners to propose a region-wide DCPC.
To date the largest DCPC ever proposed is the ocean DCPC currently in effects for the waters surrounding Cape Cod. The DCPC was sought in order to create zoning regulations for municipal offshore wind turbines.
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