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Cape Cod Commission hearing on revised turbine regulations set for Thursday

Meeting in a joint session yesterday, the Cape Cod Commission’s planning and regulatory subcommittees gave the green light to a revised set of proposed regulations for the siting and review of land-based wind turbines.

The full Commission will weigh in on the proposed amendments to the Regional Policy Plan (RPP) on Thursday during a public hearing.

The final draft regulations would apply to any proposed turbine greater than 65 feet in height (as measured from the base to the tip of the rotors at the apex of their rotation). The amended RPP would:

• Establish a “clear area” of 1.5 times the overall height of the turbine or the turbine manufacturer’s recommended minimum clear area, whichever is greater;
• Establish for all turbines of 660 kilowatt (KW) capacity or greater a noise setback of 10 times the overall height of the turbine, as measured from the base to the nearest receptor – defined as any occupied residential or commercial property – or residentially zoned parcel;
• Require all project applicants for projects of 660 KW capacity or greater to conduct a noise impact study and fund a CCC review of that study. Project applicants seeking a reduced noise setback may use the study results to prove minimal impacts to prove minimal impacts to receptors;
• Mandate project applicants prepare plan detailing reduced operating procedures, including full decommissioning of the turbine, to mitigate and address noise complaints by abutters;
• Require all applicants to conduct studies of shadow flicker on all receptors, and file a mitigation plan that limit shadow flickers events to less than 10 hours per year;
• Direct project applicants to provide to the CCC security to cover full decommissioning of a turbine. A turbine would be decommissioned automatically if a turbine is inoperative for more than 120 consecutive days;
• Outline visual mitigation requirements to reduce a turbine’s impact on local aesthetics, particularly in scenic areas and protected areas (i.e., historical districts)

The subcommittees deleted language that would apply the DRI review process to meteorological towers, which are often erected months in advance of a turbine project to measure a site’s wind conditions.

The latest batch of provisions was approved almost unanimously. The sole holdout was Roger L. Putnam, Wellfleet’s representative to the CCC, who blasted the entire proposal as “watered-down and vitiated and garbled,” and contrary to the Cape Cod Commission’s mission.

Mr. Putnam specifically faulted the language for shadow flicker, which he believed should come with a maximum daily limit of 15 minutes in addition to the 10 hours per year standard; and noise, which he said should be based on raw decibel levels rather than turbine size.

Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, and Ryan Christenberry, CCC planner, explained that the noise issue had to take into account individual projects, which could be affected by factors such as surrounding topography and ambient background noise, and as such it would be problematic to establish a blanket standard for all turbines based on decibel levels.

Mr. Niedzwiecki said the county would address decibel levels as it develops detailed noise standards in a technical bulletin, which would be attached to the RPP regulations. “The decibel level is one part of the potential harm,” he said.

Other subcommittee members further noted that noise complaints from Falmouth residents living near the town-owned turbine on Blacksmith Shop Road have been based on the possible health effects of ultra low-frequency “infrasound” as well as the audible swishing sound of the blades in motion.

The Cape Cod Commission’s public hearing on the revised RPP amendments is scheduled for 3 PM Thursday, and will be held in the chamber of the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates in the Barnstable First District Courthouse.

For more information, visit the Cape Cod Commission website at www.capecodcommission.org.