There was plenty of testimony, but no recommendation yet on the Cape Cod Commission’s proposed standards for land-based wind turbines.
The Assembly’s Government Regulations Subcommittee heard from more than 20 residents from across the Cape at its April 13 hearing, and with testimony talking more than three hours, the subcommittee deferred its discussion until next week.
The subcommittee will discuss the proposal and vote its recommendation April 20 at 2 p.m. when the hearing will resume. No additional testimony will be taken. The full Assembly also meets April 20 at 4 p.m. and is expected to discuss and possibly vote on the proposal.
The draft regulations call for commission review of any turbine that will stand more than 65 feet to the tip of the blade and includes increased requirements for sound studies for larger turbines. The full draft can be reviewed at capecodcommission.org/RPP.
As a preface to the staff presentation, Cape Cod Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki reminded the subcommittee that the full Assembly sent back looser standards “to close some loopholes” in November. He pointed out that the earlier proposal had the support of the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative, which opposes the current draft.
He said that he reviewed the video and had a copy of the transcript from that meeting with him, which the commission relied on for guidance in developing the proposal. In November, the Assembly considered the proposal as weak and expressed a desire for thresholds to trigger development of regional impact review by the Cape Cod Commission.
There is an expectation among Assembly observers that the regulations will once again be sent back to the commission for further revision, this time for being too restrictive.
Generally, those who support the development of wind power oppose the regulation and those wary of the technology are supportive.
The Town of Barnstable’s energy coordinator is on record with the county commissioners as opposing the regulations as too strict, particularly on height and the absence of a municipal exemption.
Those sentiments were shared by Barnstable Delegate Tom Lynch at last week’s Assembly meeting in a give-and-take with the county commissioners. Lynch, who serves as Barnstable’s assistant town manager, carries the greatest weighted vote of all delegates at greater than 20 percent.
Niedzwiecki explained that when the commission looks at a threshold it needs to be put in the context of the entire RPP. He said that the threshold is similar to the one in place for cell phone towers.
“That’s where it comes from,” Niedzwiecki said. “65 feet is all you’re going to get out of the commission. To go any higher or lower than that is a political decision.”
He did not feel that the commission was comfortable making such a decision. It is comfortable giving that discretion to towns that develop their own wind regulations, Niedzwiecki said. Under the proposal, the Assembly could approve a procedure to certify local wind rules that eliminate the need to refer such projects to the commission.
“I don’t think this is a ban on wind and it certainly wasn’t intended as a ban on wind,” Niedzwiecki told the subcommittee.
Outside of some questions of commission staff and residents speaking during the hearing, the Assembly subcommittee did not have any substantive discussion among its members.
The hearing was well attended by other Assembly members, with six non-committee members sitting through the testimony, including Lynch.
Brewster town officials spoke against the proposal, as their town has spent upwards of $500,000 and 18 months in time trying to permit two 1.6-megawatt turbines.
“I’m just very concerned about the nature of the wind regulations… and the ability to develop wind on Cape Cod,” Brewster town administrator Charlie Sumner told the subcommittee.
If there was a steady message from supporters, it was that if the regulations aren’t approved, the Assembly should consider a Cape-wide District of Critical Planning Concern as a way to get a moratorium on new wind projects.
Falmouth residents near the town’s Wind 1 at the water treatment facility have reported negative health and quality of life effects – headaches, sleepless nights and other reactions – since it went into operation last year. Mark Cool, who lives in West Falmouth, supports the regulations as a way to introduce “a transparent review process that minimizes municipal conflicts of interests.”
Among the last speakers was Liz Argo, an Orleans-based renewable energy consultant who was instrumental in development of the Town of Falmouth’s wind program. She noted the people who are “dead set against wind on Cape Cod” favor passage of the regulations.
“I think that speaks volumes,” Argo told the subcommittee.
Barbara Hill, executive director of Clean Power Now, suggested the formation of an outside group with experts on both sides of the wind issue to move away from the “emotionally driven arguments” that she believes are driving the debate. She believes the current proposal is technically incomplete and inconsistent.
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