For the past several years, Cape Cod residents worried about wind turbines near their homes have been asking that question and rallying against projects they think cross the line.
Now the Cape Cod Commission will take up the issue. On Monday a joint planning and regulatory subcommittee of the regional agency recommended rules for land-based turbines that the full commission is expected to address Thursday during a public hearing. The subcommittee voted 7-1 to forward rules to the full commission.
“We are trying to derive a consensus here in a very polarized discussion,” Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki said after the two-hour subcommittee meeting. “I’m actually optimistic as to where we are with the regulation.”
Under the proposed rules, wind turbines greater than 65 feet would trigger a review by the land use agency.
Minimum performance standards included in the rules would require turbines that produce more than 660 kilowatts to be set back from residential properties a distance of 10 times the rotor diameter. A rotor diameter is the distance across the circle created by the sweep of a turbine’s blades.
A project could be built closer to an abutter if a noise study shows that sound levels would result in “minimal impacts to occupants within a reduced setback.”
If that standard was in place for one turbine already operating and another erected at the Falmouth wastewater treatment facility, it would have required the town to locate the machines almost 2,700 feet from the nearest residential parcel.
Some Falmouth residents who have complained vociferously about health effects caused by noise from the first turbine’s blades live less than 1,500 feet away.
Technical bulletins that lay out standards will address specific noise limits, Niedzwiecki said.
“We absolutely will deal with noise issues,” he said.
Another standard in the rules would limit the amount of shadow flicker from turbine blades to less than 10 hours per year.
At least one subcommittee member was dissatisfied with the changes.
“We’re sitting around here debating how much we’re going to hurt people,” Wellfleet’s commission representative Roger Putnam said during the meeting.
Putnam argued that the commission should establish noise standards rather than setback standards.
“Size of the rotor isn’t what hurts people,” he said. “It’s the amount of noise that hurts people.”
The flicker standard should be based on a daily rate rather than an annual rate, Putnam said. “It isn’t spread out over the year,” he said, suggesting 15 minutes per day instead of the 10 hour yearly standard.
Other subcommittee members and commission staff argued that specifics would be included in technical bulletins and that the rules are meant to protect Cape residents.
“Ten hours is about as conservative as any regulations on the planet on this,” Niedzwiecki said of the flicker standard.
The commission can always be more restrictive as part of a project’s review, he said.
“This allows us to be project specific,” Eastham’s representative Joyce Brookshire said.
The reaction in the small audience that sat through the subcommittee meeting was equally mixed.
Jim Rogers of Sandwich and Wellfleet said the commission should seek to eliminate the impact of all noise for neighbors rather than merely minimize it.
“It seems to me that the Cape Cod Commission should do no harm,” he said.
The height threshold for turbines that requires commission review should be increased to up to 175 feet, Barnstable’s energy coordinator Richard Elrick said.
“There’s no documentation that (smaller) turbines created a problem,” he said.
Elrick also said the 250-killowatt threshold for municipalities to request a waiver from commission review should be increased.
“Here we are in the Saudi Arabia of wind and we are producing the most stringent standards that exist anywhere,” he said.
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