Hingham – A citizens petition to create an overlay district for wind turbines is expected to be withdrawn after a well-attended public hearing on Monday night before the Planning Board. Under the proposed bylaw, a Wind Facilities Overlay District would have been created at the Hingham Transfer Station/Landfill, South Shore Country Club, and the Town Forest. In addition to those town-owned properties, the overlay district would include an eight-acre parcel of land on Dennis Rd. owned by Quincy developer Michael Ferrara.
The bylaw was written by Ferrara and his partner, Cohasset resident Matthew Shanley. Shanley appeared before the Planning Board Monday night, along with Shaun Lockett, a sales representative from Aeronautica Windpower of Plymouth.
The bylaw was written, Shanley said, by taking language from other towns’ bylaws, as well as the state’s model wind turbine code. Planning Board Chair Paul Healey asked, “You’re advocating that we do this on a cut and paste basis?” Healey also asked if the writers had consulted technical experts to craft the zoning requirements, as is recommended. Shanley said they had not yet consulted experts, but would do so if the Planning Board approved the petition. Healey questioned how he could propose such a law without first consulting technical advisors. He asked Shanley, “would you expect the town to do the homework on this?”
Lockett, though not specifically a technical expert, detailed the required structural standards of turbines in the state model code, and also discussed the code’s required safety standards. These standards include setback requirements, equipment failure, environmental impacts, noise levels, and “flicker hazard”. Flicker, he said, is caused when the turbine blades pass between sunlight and a home; creating a strobe effect. Because some people are bothered by this effect, it is called a “hazard”. He noted that to his knowledge, most people were not bothered by flicker once they got used to it. The burden of proof that this does not have significant adverse impact on neighbors is on the owner of the turbine.
To some residents in the area of Dennis Road, which borders Weymouth and Rockland, flicker could be life threatening. There are children in the area who suffer from epilepsy, and according to one resident, shadow flicker is thought to increase the occurrence of seizures, which can eventually be fatal.
There were many other safety concerns mentioned, most importantly the lack of fire hydrants in the area. But there were also many residents who spoke in favor of the general concept of alternative energy. Most agreed that the town did need a wind bylaw, but this was not properly or completely crafted.
Judith Sonder, representing REACH, read a letter from her organization, which said that while REACH did endorse the turbine project proposed on Turkey Hill, they had not formulated an opinion on this one yet. She said she did not want a “turbine at any cost”, urging the Planning Board to draft a thorough wind bylaw.
Residents also objected to this bylaw’s inclusion of town-owned open space in the proposed district, saying that operating turbines in open space parcels would be an industrial use, and therefore against the intention the town had for those spaces.
Martin O’Neill of Cranberry Lane pointed out that one turbine would generate only one percent of the town’s electricity needs. “If we’re really serious about wind, we should learn from past experiences (in other areas)”. Responding to Shaun Lockett’s claim that wind turbines were being used successfully and free of complaints in California, O’Neill said those wind farms were in remote areas, not in residential areas. He said one turbine isn’t cost effective, and Hingham should look for a large area where many turbines could be installed to get the full benefit.
Sean Hannan, another resident abutting the Landfill, said he felt that the turbines themselves would permanently change the visual landscape of the town. He also thought that the idea itself should be debated more. He wasn’t sure that wind was the right concept for Hingham or any residential area. He felt strongly that the town should do more research, paying particular attention to Europe.
“Europe has culturally moved beyond the euphoric sentiments we’re seeing here in the US, and the region is much further along in terms of deployments in a range of settings that include industrial, rural and residential. Because they’re much further along the curve, the reality of the benefits as well as consequences and issues of erecting wind turbines are becoming better understood and much more visible today. Some of the negative outcomes of poorly planned wind turbine deployments are very real,” he said. “When it comes to renewable energy, we should probably consider all renewable solutions and learn more from those with experience instead of taking a direct route to ultimately force a ‘green’ solution that simply seems at the surface to be a good idea.”
Paul Healey noted that when an equally complicated issue came before the Planning Board last year – the warrant article for lights at the Ward Street athletic fields – the applicant did supply the technical expertise necessary to craft an article in time for Town Meeting. He told Shanley “you are apparently unwilling to provide that. Your bylaw seems to focus on your interest, and it’s telling to me that the two town boards that would naturally support this (REACH and the Energy Action Committee) are not behind it. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done (by the Planning Board) to rewrite this law in the limited time we have (before Town Meeting).”
Healey asked Shanley to decide how he wanted to pursue the petition. Shanley said “if it means I will have to go out and hire an expert, which I’m unwilling to do, I will withdraw. I won’t waste the town’s time or my own.” Healey said he would allow Shanley time to gather the signatures to withdraw the petition. In the absence of that formal withdrawal letter, the Planning Board would enter a recommendation of no action at a future meeting
Planning Board member Sarah Corey observed that there’s a lot of interest and concern about this issue. She thanked Shanley for at least starting the debate, and she implored town boards and committees to come up with a wind plan. “This takes a year, at least once a month, to do. I ask people in the audience to come forward and contribute their time.”
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