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Barnstable county sets standards for wind turbines on land

BARNSTABLE – County officials approved standards for land-based wind turbines Wednesday but sent a 65-foot height threshold for Cape Cod Commission review back to the drawing board.

“I think it’s a good result,” said Paul Niedzwiecki, the planning and regulatory agency’s executive director. “We’ve made progress in this discussion.”

During its regular meeting, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates approved new standards for noise, shadow flicker and other aspects of wind energy projects that are reviewed by the commission. Because the height threshold was rejected, only projects that are referred to the commission by a town or appear before the agency for other reasons, such as the clearing of more than 2 acres, will be affected by the regulations.

The debate over where wind turbines should be placed on Cape Cod has boiled over in the past year, with opponents claiming that noise and other aspects of a turbine’s operation can have harmful health effects on neighbors and reduce property values.

Proponents of wind energy say the projects are necessary to reduce the use of fossil fuels and to reduce the amount municipalities pay for electricity.

Assembly delegates from 10 towns – 69 percent of the panel’s weighted vote – approved the new standards.

The county’s legislative body is made up of a representative from each of the Cape’s 15 towns. Each delegate has a vote based on its town’s population.

Specifics for the standards will be fleshed out in so-called “technical bulletins” during consultation with a citizens advisory committee and objective experts, Niedzwiecki said.

“Voting for the standards means that the conversation and the narrowing of the differences can continue at another level,” he said.

The commission will also begin working on revising a model wind energy bylaw that towns could use to designate a height threshold to trigger review by the commission, Niedzwiecki said.

The assembly sent the 65-foot height threshold back to the commission for more study based on concerns raised by some members about what seemed to them an arbitrary number.

“I couldn’t find a satisfactory explanation for the height that was chosen as the trigger,” said Yarmouth’s representative, Spyro Mitrokostas. “It will tend to catch every project that is proposed from here on out.”

Not every wind turbine proposed on the Cape has a regional impact, Mitrokostas said.

Other representatives argued that towns could always control the height trigger for commission review under a proposed ordinance that would allow municipalities to adopt their own bylaws.

“What’s wrong with that approach?” Provincetown delegate Cheryl Andrews asked.

Towns could create their own bylaw regardless of the commission’s involvement, Mitrokostas countered.

In addition, towns would have the discretion to refer any project to the commission for review, Harwich delegate Leo Cakounes said.

“The towns do have the ability to send a project of even 45 feet to the Cape Cod Commission,” Cakounes said.

Opponents of locating turbines near residential neighborhoods called the adoption of the standards a victory.

The regulations are sorely needed and long overdue, said Eric Bibler, a vocal opponent of various wind energy projects across the Cape.

Despite the progress on standards for projects that appear before the commission for other reasons, opponents of projects in the region continue to have concerns about the height threshold, he said.

“The referral can only be made by town boards or committees,” Bibler said of projects referred to the commission, adding that residents who do not have the support of a town board have little recourse if they object to a project.