Although they won’t take a formal vote until later this month, most members of the Cohasset Planning Board say they will approve a nonprofit organization’s proposal to build a 410-foot wind turbine that will stand on conservation land spanning the borders of Cohasset and Hingham.
The Trustees of Reservations, a Sharon-based conservation organization, plans to place the 1.8-megawatt turbine on Turkey Hill, a site that lies in Cohasset but is surrounded by Hingham neighborhoods. It would be the first turbine built under the town’s wind energy bylaw and would produce 5 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually, of which about 15 percent would be used to power the 17 Trustees properties connected to the area grid, according to Steve Sloan, the organization’s director for Greater Boston.
The remainder of the generated power would be sold to the grid for public use. While $400,000 to $550,000 in gross revenue annually is being projected, much of that will go toward the project’s cost, estimated at $5 to $6 million, Sloan said.
Not everyone is celebrating. The lawyer representing some Hingham neighbors, who have formed an opposition group called Friends of Turkey Hill, has already warned Cohasset planners that an approval of the permits is likely to trigger a lawsuit.
But despite the threat of court action and some lingering concerns of their own, four of five Planning Board members said they were in favor of the turbine project when polled after two hours of discussion Wednesday, as long as issues like the light-shadow effect called flicker and possible public injury from ice falling off the spinning blades, are addressed through conditions attached to the required special permit.
Planning Board member Stuart Ivimey, who backs the project, said any development is going to have an impact on someone.
“When the community approved the wind turbine bylaw, they understood there would be a cost associated with that,’’ he said.
Following the meeting, Hingham resident Stephen Shoemaker said he and other residents will be the ones paying “the cost’’ alluded to by Ivimey. “What’s so agitating is Hingham hasn’t even voted wind power in our town, and now Cohasset will have a turbine that is going to affect Hingham residents,’’ he said.
Shoemaker said he just recently bought his East Street home in Hingham. “It has a southern wall with floor-to-ceiling windows looking out at Turkey Hill,’’ he said. “There’s no way I’m not going to get flicker from the turbine, and I don’t want to live behind black-out shades.’’
Several Hingham homeowners, during December’s public hearing on the project, said they bought their properties because of their proximity to conservation land. The homeowners believed such land was protected forever from development.
Charles Samuelson, the sole dissenter on the Planning Board Wednesday, said he doesn’t believe the Trustees’ proposal meets the requirements contained in Cohasset’s wind turbine bylaw, since they stipulate “a turbine can’t cause significant flicker impacts by its siting.’’
A caretaker’s cottage on the Turkey Hill property and a nearby nursing home called Golden Living Center, based on calculations done by the applicant and the town’s engineer, are expected to experience the light-shadow play of flicker for more than the 30 hours per year the wind industry’s informal standard, noted Samuelson. The hours of flicker, caused by the spinning blades, would be double the standard at Golden Living and triple the standard at the caretaker’s cottage.
Planning Board members suggested a series of remedies to address the flicker effect, like black-out shades, landscape screens, periodic turbine shut-down, and post-construction monitoring. Such remedies could be written into the conditions, they said.
Hingham neighbors of the tower site weren’t satisfied with such mitigation.
“The suggestion of black-out shades is laughable,’’ said Hingham homeowner Charles Dale.
Attorney Jeffrey Tocchio, representing the Friends of Turkey Hill, said his clients can do nothing further until the Planning Board takes its formal vote on Feb. 23.
Tocchio has questioned whether the nonprofit Trustees of Reservations can use conservation land for a for-profit venture, under the terms of its charter, since the charter was initially approved by the Legislature. He contends it cannot be changed without another legislative vote.
The Trustees have countered that the project is within their mission as protectors of the land; they said reducing the use of fossil fuels and replacing it with clean energy like wind power is part of their protection effort.
The Trustees project does carry the support of one Hingham group.
The board of the Responsible Energy Alternatives Coalition of Hingham, or REACH, enthusiastically endorsed the Turkey Hill turbine project in a letter written by officer Robert Broker and published in a Hingham weekly newspaper.
“The Vestas 1.8 M turbine, standing at over 400 feet to the top of the blade, will appear to be large when you walk in the meadows of Turkey Hill, yet one of the most respectable conservators of properties in Massachusetts is reminding us that there is a higher cost to our coastlands than that image,’’ Broker wrote in his letter. “We concur with that judgment.’’
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