BARNSTABLE – In the world of wind energy, pleasing everyone is as hard to accomplish as predicting when the wind will blow.
In a move that has support from opponents of wind energy projects but has been met coldly by project proponents, the Cape Cod Commission voted Thursday to approve a revised set of regulations for land-based turbines.
The Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates must now sign off on the new rules for them to take effect. The assembly is expected to vote on the rules in March.
“I think they’re a dramatic improvement over the last set of draft standards,” Westboro-based attorney Christopher Senie said Friday about the commission’s proposed rules. Senie represents 65 Cape residents from Falmouth, Bourne and Brewster who have called for more restrictions on the placement of wind turbines.
If approved by the Assembly, the new rules would require Cape Cod Commission review of any turbine taller than 65 feet.
The regulations would not affect controversial turbines already in place at the Falmouth Wastewater Treatment Facility or the wind energy project that the Brewster Planning Board rejected this week. If the Commission rejects a seven-turbine Bourne project currently under review and a new plan is resubmitted after the rules go into effect, they could play a role there.
Minimum performance standards included in the proposed regulations 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 a neighboring property owner if a noise study shows that sound levels “would result in minimal impacts to occupants within a reduced setback.”
The as-yet undefined meaning of “minimal impacts” is a concern, said Liz Argo of the Cape and Islands Wind Information Network.
“We don’t know how that’s going to be interpreted,” she said.
The height threshold that triggers commission review is another concern, she said.
“To have to put these (smaller) projects through the Cape Cod Commission, it doesn’t make sense,” she said.
The Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative thinks that the thresholds are too strict and the standards are too amorphous, said Charles McLaughlin, president of the energy cooperative. The cooperative is the developer behind the failed municipal wind project in Brewster.
McLaughlin is in the unique position of being a proponent for the land-based Brewster project after being the town of Barnstable’s longtime point man in opposing the proposed Nantucket Sound wind farm.
The height threshold on land would require wind energy developers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars before they appear before the Commission for review, he said.
“The rotor diameter for the larger ones is just absolutely unworkable,” he said. “It just de facto means no municipal-size projects on the Cape when you do the math.”
Size, like much else in the debate over wind energy, appears to be in the eye of the beholder.
The Cape is just now dealing with wind power, Senie said.
“I think it took us all by surprise, these large wind turbines,” he said.
Future regulations are expected to exempt smaller, residential turbines. Even larger turbines, if they passed Commission review, could be built, Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki said Friday.
“There’s nothing in the standards passed yesterday that in any way prohibits any turbines,” he said.
But Niedzwiecki is still unsure of what to expect from the Assembly of Delegates, which sent regulations back to the Commission in November because the rules were too lenient.
Now it appears the pendulum may have swung in the other direction.
“I have a sense that we have an uphill battle in front of the new Assembly even though I think we responded exactly with what they asked for,” Niedzwiecki said.
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