BREWSTER – Representatives of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative told the Brewster selectmen Monday that the group will seek an exemption under state law allowing them to build two municipal wind turbines in an industrial park without a special permit from the town.
Selectmen enhanced that initiative by proposing a zoning article for town meeting to eliminate the requirement for a special permit for municipal wind turbines of any size if located on town-owned land in an industrially zoned area.
“There is a limited window for us to act,” said Town Administrator Charles Sumner. “Is it unorthodox? Yes. Do I look forward to the process? No. We don’t have the time to spend years in a legal process to decide this issue.”
Maggie Downey and Mark Zielinski of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative appeared before the board Monday to advance a proposal to spend $10 million to build two 410-foot turbines on town-owned land in Commerce Park off Freemans Way. They would pay the town an annual lease of $100,000 for 20 years and supply municipal departments with lower-cost electricity at a dedicated rate. The town, which faces an $800,000 override this spring, is seeking new revenues and to stabilize electric utility costs.
Earlier this month, the planning board, which the town’s wind turbine bylaw specifies as the special-permit-granting authority, couldn’t reach the required supermajority to either issue or deny the permit. That hung jury effectively served as a denial.
Ed Lewis, chairman of the selectmen, said the electric cooperative decided it didn’t want to pursue what it saw as a costly and time-consuming court appeal that could, in the end, refer the case back to the planning board. Downey said the state Department of Public Utilities has undertaken many similar cases in which a town board has rejected a project. But the road to such a decision is long and selectmen want a decision soon.
The argument advanced by selectmen was that town meeting unanimously supported all phases of the project, including the municipal wind turbine bylaw in 2007 that zoned the Freemans Way industrial park area for large wind turbines. They argued that process shouldn’t be derailed by one board’s inability to make a decision, but should go back before the voters.
“Town meeting runs the town,” Selectman Greg Levasseur said. “This board still has a direction from town meeting voters to make this work. From my perspective this is the perfect example of the voters being in charge.”
But project opponents, and others, saw it differently.
“The planning board had 3½ months to examine a lot of material,” turbine foe Mitch Relin said. “They were charged to look at it and base their decision on it. You didn’t like that vote and now you want to change the rules. Is that how the process works in this town?”
Others pointed out that by allowing wind turbines to go in “by right” without a permit, the town lost its power to review them; but Sumner said the town could still regulate them through contract negotiations similar to special conditions that a planning board could have imposed.
“I don’t like process,” said Lewis. “I would have preferred the planning board to come to a decision and condition the project. That would have been the right way. But they didn’t do that. This is something that will get the whole town involved.”
But resident Rick Judd argued that it doesn’t matter what town meeting voted, because the electric cooperative would likely prevail in its appeal to the state Department of Public Utilities.
“Let CVEC withdraw after the people speak,” he urged selectmen, referring to the cooperative.
But Lewis instead said the board would “cross that bridge when we come to it” if their article doesnt’ gain the two-thirds majority it needs to pass, or worse, doesn’t gain a majority. Levasseur said the cooperative is not bound by any selectmen’s request or decision.
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