It’s no go for the Brewster turbines.
In a somewhat flummoxing conclusion to hours of hearings and discussion by the Brewster Planning Board, the motion to deny a special permit to the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative to lease land and operate twin 410-foot turbines failed to carry by a 3-3-1 vote.
While the motion to deny failed. Another motion, perhaps to approve, could have been made, according to town planner Sue Leven, but wasn’t. Any motion to approve or deny a special permit requires five votes to pass. On Thursday morning she was consulting the town council to see if a motion to approve can still be made. She is also working on a draft of the findings.
CVEC has the option to appeal in court, either the Superior Court or Land Court and possibly the state Energy Facilities Siting Board. The board has granted eight permits to Cape Wind, overruling local boards in Barnstable and Yarmouth.
Wednesday night’s vote came abruptly after two and a half hours of discussion on whether the project met various criteria. After a brief break near 9 p.m., chairman Elizabeth Taylor suggested the board ask the staff to draft a list of findings and possible conditions for mitigation. Board member Scott Collum objected and moved the question (to deny), which was seconded by John McMullen.
“I can count the votes. It doesn’t look like this is going to pass,” McMullen said, correctly as it turned out. “Let’s vote and get it over with.”
Planning board member John Leaning urged fellow board members to reflect carefully.
“This has consumed an enormous amount of effort and money, we owe it to the proponents to give every benefit of the doubt before a vote is taken,” he said.
The vote came quickly with McMullen, Collum and Rick Kuzman voting to deny and Leaning, Taylor and Robert Barnard voting not to deny. Bob Bugle abstained, noting afterwards that he would have liked to see further discussion.
The knotted tally created some confusion.
“We haven’t figured out if we were denied yet,” noted Maggie Downey of CVEC.
Work on the proposal started several years ago.
“This is a sad day,” said Selectman Dan Rabold, “They were entrusted with a very important decision and could have done personal research – to have someone (Collum) call it a four hundred and ten foot monster.”
Collum wasn’t alone in concern that the turbine didn’t fit Brewster’s rural character.
“I don’t think Brewster is the place for a 410-foot gigantic wind turbine,” McMullen said. “Most people never considered the idea (that town meeting) was talking about big huge industrial turbines.”
“I can’t think of anything better than to put wind turbines up,” Leaning countered. “It sends a message to the state and the rest of Cape Cod; Cape Cod is willing to give a little to get a lot. I think turbines are quite beautiful.”
That wasn’t the message sent. This is the fourth local turbine project to be voted down. There were similar decisions in Wellfleet, Harwich and Orleans.
Besides the scale and size of the turbines, there were concerns about lowered property values, safety in case of fire, ice, setbacks from roads, decommissioning, noise and even static electricity emanating from the towers. McMullen expressed concern about the plan to just let fires in the turbine burn out.
“What if one of the blades comes loose and goes flying away?” he asked.
“Blade throw with modern turbines is also very rare. It happens on occasion. Particularly with older turbines,” engineer Steve Wiehe replied.
“Ice throw is a concern. The fall zone is 410 feet around the wind turbine,” Collum said. “The highway is 600 feet away. I don’t think 410 feet of wind turbine spinning at 80 mile per hour throwing a 12 pound chunk of ice will land within 410 feet.”
“Hull has had two turbines for 15 years and has never had an incident of ice throw” Wiehe answered. “There are vibration detectors in the turbines that detect unbalanced blades and cause it to shut down.”
The project’s contribution to world well-being was cited but not embraced.
“It’s easy being green when you’re not being impacted,” Kuzman reflected. “Who do we give up? Who do we sacrifice?”
“We cannot do no harm to everybody. My concern is we do as little harm as we can to as few people as we can,” said Leaning, who is a realtor.
“There is a good chance property values will be negatively affected,” Collum observed. “As far as scenic view – this is so close to Captains Golf Course there will be a lot of flicker (on) the holes and driving range. There’s a good chance we’ll lose a little bit of (golf) revenue.”
“Could you program to turn off at times there would be flicker?” asked Taylor.
“Absolutely,” a CVEC spokesman replied.
Much of the opposition coalesced around the idea the turbines didn’t fit the town or location.
“It bothers me a lot, the visual character of the neighborhood. Brewster prides itself on keeping the town a rural setting,” Kuzman said.
“The town voted (at town meeting) to create a district where large wind energy turbines could be located; the commerce district off Freeman’s Way,” Leaning argued.
There was discussion about setting up noise monitors to see if there were problems, but Kuzman said he’d rather be proactive.
“I’m inclined to protect the public rather than wait and see what happens,” he noted.
When it became apparent the yes votes weren’t there Bugle suggested the applicant be offered a chance to withdraw.
“No,” replied Downey.
And that essentially was the verdict.
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