BARNSTABLE – Planners on Martha’s Vineyard and Cape Cod have similar questions but different answers for how to regulate wind turbines.
Regional planning agencies on both the Cape and Vineyard released draft plans last month to deal with wind-energy projects in state waters under their jurisdiction. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s model regulations for island towns also cover land-based turbines, while the Cape Cod Commission is handling terrestrial projects with a separate set of rules.
“I think we’re all sort of headed in the same direction,” Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki said. “We’re probably taking a different approach.”
On the Cape, for example, planners have avoided the rigid standard for noise from land-based turbines that is in the Vineyard commission’s proposed regulations. “That’s difficult to do given some of the things we’ve looked at,” Niedzwiecki said. “Part of it is we have to come up with standards that are legally defensible.”
An absolute decibel level for noise at a specific radius may be inappropriate because of geographic influences on sound from a turbine’s blades and background noise, he said.
Proposed standards for land-based turbines, which the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates rejected in November, have been adjusted to include a height threshold to trigger Cape Cod Commission review, among other changes. The new standards could be brought back to the assembly for reconsideration by February, Niedzwiecki said. The full commission will review the standards Jan. 20.
new rules under review
The commission’s ocean management plan for offshore turbines includes few specific regulations but shows where community-scale wind-energy projects might be located based on data gathered by the state.
Four areas in Cape Cod Bay and in Nantucket Sound south of Yarmouth are highlighted on a map of potential community-scale wind areas. The commission could further refine those areas and is addressing economic and visual considerations the state did not cover in its ocean plan, Niedzwiecki said.
“This plan so far definitely does not go overboard in terms of specifics,” renewable energy advocate Chris Powicki of Brewster said.
Instead, the Cape plan seems to support smaller projects that developers are unlikely to pursue and projects in at least one area where a technological leap would be required because of water depths, he said.
“We have to take into account present-day feasibility as well as future technology,” Niedzwiecki said. “I don’t think that technology is that far away.”
Final rules for projects in state waters off the Cape are expected by the summer, Niedzwiecki said.
On the Cape, land-based projects have incensed opponents who argue there are few if any areas where turbines can coexist with homes, open space or scenic views. On the Vineyard, controversy over wind energy is tied more closely to offshore proposals.
The model regulations released at the end of December have been sent to Vineyard towns so town meetings can vote on them in the spring, Martha’s Vineyard Commission Executive Director Mark London said.
“A fundamental objective of the (regulations) was to have a balanced approach,” London said. “There was a general sense that some of the regulations that were out there don’t adequately protect abutters.”
Vineyard planners have consulted with the Cape Cod Commission and learned from mainland instances in which residents claimed health effects from nearby turbines, London said.
Noise standards, for example, are stricter than the state’s and account for ambient noise levels that are much lower on the island than in other areas, he said. Vineyard planners expect to adjust regulations as new information becomes available.
“I think this is a rapidly changing field,” London said.
Offshore projects a concern
The potential for wind energy offshore near the Vineyard is far greater than onshore, London said.
A day before the draft regional regulations were issued the state and federal government released a map of 3,000 square miles of possible leasing blocks for offshore projects in federal waters south of Nantucket and the Vineyard.
As part of its ocean management plan, the state also identified two areas southwest of the Vineyard where commercial wind farms might be built, although new information could further limit prospects in those locations, London said.
Despite the focus on offshore wind energy around the island, some residents believe all turbines should face more scrutiny.
The commission exists to protect the unique nature of Martha’s Vineyard and should review any turbines larger than a residential home, former commission member Megan Ottens-Sargent said.
Ottens-Sargent, who consults on conservation issues for POINT, a group of islanders who oppose large wind-energy projects around the island, said there are locations where the damage from turbines far outweighs any perceived benefits.
“Why can’t we be a little patient to come up with technologies that are really going to work?” she said.
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