After it suffered two major setbacks at the hands of the regional commission overseeing the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District, the Cape & Vineyard Electric Cooperative wants to end the commission’s jurisdiction over wind turbines.
“Without legislation, significant acreage on the Cape will be unavailable to us,” said Charles McLaughlin, the electric cooperative president.
The cooperative formed in 2007 to help municipalities with the costs of renewable energy projects, as well as share the benefits among 19 member towns and counties.
For the past three years, it has tried to assist towns by offering to spend the millions needed to purchase turbines, while entering into long-term agreements to lease town-owned land and supply relatively low-cost power to the town and other cooperative members.
Although it has had success with similar solar-energy programs, the cooperative has yet to erect its first wind turbine.
In September, the Old King’s Highway Regional Historic District Commission ruled against a 600-kilowatt turbine proposed for Aquaculture Research Corp. near Chapin Beach in Dennis. The town’s own King’s Highway historic district committee had already approved the turbine, but it was appealed to the regional commission.
Among the complaints were that the turbine was out of scale for the district and possibly unsafe and would be too noisy and unsightly for neighbors and beachgoers. In March, the commission also ruled against a similar-size turbine proposed for Cape Cod Community College, saying the turbine, at nearly 250 feet high, was too big for the district.
“There are those in the community who feel that the turbines need to be approved at any cost and that it won’t affect the tourists if you lose the scenic value of marshes and historic sites,” said James Wilson, the attorney for the historic highway commission. “But others say that you are bringing these industrial applications into historic areas and you could lose the look of what is Cape Cod.” And, some argue, possibly the tourist dollars.
While the Outer Cape has the Cape Cod National Seashore to protect its scenic heritage, Wilson said, the Old King’s Highway district is the only comparable protective entity for the Mid- and Upper Cape.
“The two decisions are real bellwethers as to where this is going,” McLaughlin said. The cooperative drew the conclusion that it was unlikely there would be any favorable ruling on other turbine proposals within the district, which runs along Route 6A north to Cape Cod Bay and covers a significant portion of the Mid- and Upper Cape. It encompasses six towns: Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Dennis, Brewster and Orleans.
The regional commission consists of six members, each of whom is the chairman of a member town historic district committee.
A review of the electric cooperative’s meeting minutes shows the group has been talking about filing state legislation to curtail the jurisdiction of the Old King’s Highway commission. McLaughlin was unsure what form the legislation would take.
Peter Lomenzo, the chairman of the Old King’s Highway commission, denied his board had a predisposition against wind turbines, although he did say that the height and mass of a structure are two criteria they are concerned with. He believes, like other applicants who come before his board, those seeking to permit wind turbines should be open to compromise.
“It’s surprising to me that the only solution is a large-sized wind turbine,” he said. “The overwhelming majority of applicants want to work with the committee to achieve their goals.”
“We’ll continue to adhere to the local process, but the Old King’s Highway (commission) is a massive obstacle to any significant wind production on the Cape,” McLaughlin said. The cooperative is asking its member towns for their opinion on going to the Cape’s state legislators to ask for the requisite legislative relief, and has yet to file any such bill, McLaughlin said.
“We’re not interested in steamrolling over the local process,” he pointed out. “We need the consensus of our town membership to see if there is support” for special legislation.
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