Setbacks: 3,000 feet for one-megawatt (or greater) turbines
Regional review: Triggered if turbine is more than 65 feet tall
Noise study: Required
Shadow flicker study: Required
Noise, shadow flicker and decommission rules
Building a wind turbine, even a small one at your home, could be much more difficult if the proposed new regulations before Cape Cod Commission are adopted.
The proposed rules state that any turbine greater than 65 feet in height would be a Development of Regional Impact.
Calling that threshold “ridiculously low,” Richard Elrick, energy coordinator for the towns of Barnstable and Bourne, said the rules were “essentially mandating that every turbine proposed would have to go through full commission review. Sixty-five feet can’t possibly be described as a regional impact.”
Larger 1-megawatt turbines would require a 3,000-foot setback from the nearest “receptor” (a dwelling occupied during daylight) unless they can demonstrate via a noise study that the impacts on any occupants are minimal.
“You might as well say goodbye to the towns’ ability to erect turbines to reduce their energy cost,” Elrick said. “To pass these proposed constraints as written would create the most substantial impediment yet to the installation of new wind turbines on Cape Cod.”
Elrick spoke to the commission at a public hearing last week.
But Paul Niedzwiecki, the commission’s executive director, pointed out that the rules are overdue. In the past, the commission has left most siting issues to local towns.
“The technology has changed. The scale of these structures has increased,” he noted. “The model bylaws are somewhat outdated. They were envisioned to cover residential wind turbines, not the commercial wind turbines we’re seeing now. The fact that we had no regulations put us in a difficult, even ridiculous situation, of having large commercial wind projects trip the Cape Cod Commission threshold for review for reasons other than the turbines themselves, like forestry clearing.”
The commission also had no standards on the books so it compiled three sets of standards last fall for the Assembly of Delegates to review. The Assembly found them insufficient and indicated they wanted a new threshold and clear standards.
“When you’re talking about structures that can be 500 feet tall, it’s hard to imagine that structures that size don’t have a regional impact,” Niedzwiecki explained. “We have shown a great deal of restraint and discretion on land-based wind turbine discussion but the Assembly wants us to act.”
As noted under the proposed amendments, any tower, including a meteorological one, higher than 65 feet (to the blade tip) would meet the threshold as a Development of Regional Impact and be subject to review.
Each turbine would require a cleared area (free of any structure for human occupancy, road or recreational use) around the structure, equal to 1.5 times the height or the manufacturer’s setback zone, whichever is greater.
All applicants for a wind energy facility would have to perform a noise study and fund a commission approved consultant’s review of the study. If the study demonstrates a minimal impact, the 3,000-foot setback could be waived.
Bill Doherty, chairman of the Barnstable County Commissioners, felt that was too high a hurdle.
“The subjective nature of hearing makes it difficult, if not impossible, to determine a threshold of irritation as a minimal impact in an absolutely objective way,” he said. “This will effectively eliminate land-based wind turbines as a significant factor in providing a revenue source for towns, reducing their contribution to global warming from fossil fuel generation.”
The turbine owners would also be required to prepare an operating plan, and decommissioning plan, that addresses any noise complaints that may arise.
Applicants would be required to conduct a shadow flicker study for all properties that might be impacted and if the flicker is greater that 10 hours a year the applicant would have to submit a mitigation plan specifying operational controls and landscaping to reduce the effects to less than 10 hours a year.
All turbines that are not in operation for 12 consecutive days must be dismantled and removed unless a written waiver is obtained. The applicant must also provide security “in a form and amount satisfactory to Cape Cod Commission” covering the life of the turbine.
The noise, flicker and decommissioning rules would not apply to municipal turbines provided they are 100 kilowatts or less.
Turbines would also be placed to avoid adverse visual impacts to sensitive areas, and projects next to scenic roads must preserve the quality and character of the scenic road.
Existing or turbines in the permitting process would be grandfathered. The only municipal proposal on the table now (on the Lower Cape) is Brewster’s for twin turbines off Freeman’s Way.
“My understanding, based on conversations with Paul Niedzwiecki is that nothing is final and that the 3,000-foot buffer is rebuttable, so to speak,” noted Ed Lewis, chairman of Brewster’s selectmen. “There is more work to be done.”
“I think we have a good proposal,” noted Town Administrator Charlie Sumner. “We think we have a good site. It is important to get the information on the town’s and CVEC’s proposal out to the public.”
To that end, Brewster selectmen will host an informational presentation at next week’s board of selectmen’s meeting which starts at 7 p.m. Monday, Jan. 31.
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