After nearly six months of fine-tuning and revisions, the Barnstable County Assembly of Delegates this week approved Cape-wide siting and review regulations for wind turbine projects, but the Cape Cod Commission’s work on the issue is far from over.
This week’s session began with a continuation of last week’s public hearing before the assembly’s standing committee on government regulations, a hearing that went for three hours and saw more than 30 people speak on the proposals before the committee adjourned for the night.
The committee did not accept any additional testimony during this week’s meeting, which saw an audience of about 20 members of the public, many of them familiar faces from previous hearings. The six-member committee agreed that “minimum performance standards” for wind turbines were desirable, but they were split over whether the proposed regulations before them were appropriate. The regulations would:
- Establish a “clear area” of 1.5 times the overall height of the turbine or the turbine manufacturer’s recommended minimum clear area, whichever is greater;
- Establish for all turbines of 660-kilowatt (kW) capacity or greater a noise setback of 10 times the diameter of the turbine blades, as measured from the base to the nearest receptor – defined as any occupied residential or commercial property – or residentially zoned parcel;
- Require all project applicants for projects of 660-kW capacity or greater to conduct a noise impact study and fund a CCC review of that study. Project applicants seeking a reduced noise setback may use the study results to prove minimal impacts to receptors;
- Mandate project applicants to prepare a plan detailing reduced operating procedures, including full decommissioning of the turbine, to mitigate and address noise complaints by abutters;
- Require all applicants to conduct studies of shadow flicker on all receptors, and file a mitigation plan that limits shadow flicker events to less than 10 hours per year;
- Direct project applicants to provide to the CCC security to cover full decommissioning of a turbine. A turbine would be decommissioned automatically if it is inoperative for more than 120 consecutive days;
- Outline visual mitigation requirements to reduce a turbine’s impact on local aesthetics, particularly in scenic areas and protected areas (i.e., historical districts).
Christopher W. Kanaga, the Orleans delegate to the assembly, regarded the language in the ordinance (Ordinance 11-03) as too vague in places and that it did not provide well-defined and consistent standards against which to judge wind turbine projects. “You need something that is objective and measurable,” he said. “When I see words like ‘satisfactory’ and ‘minimal impacts’ and ‘sensitive areas’ and ‘distinctive features,’ to me, these are code words for inviting arbitrary and subjective judgment.”
Mr. Kanaga also objected to a second, related ordinance (Ordinance 11-04) to establish a review threshold of 65 feet, meaning that any turbine greater than 65 feet in height (as measured from the base to the tip of the rotors at the apex of their rotation) would be subject to mandatory Cape Cod Commission review. He called the threshold “unduly onerous.”
John Ohman of Dennis echoed that thought—a common sentiment among wind energy supporters—and said a 65-foot threshold would send almost every turbine project to the commission.
According to Paul J. Niedzwiecki, executive director of the CCC, the 65-foot standard was based on the thresholds currently used for reviewing cellphone towers, which in turn are based on the average tree line height on Cape Cod.
These concerns would be raised again during the full assembly meeting later that afternoon, and caused Ronald J. Bergstrom of Chatham, speaker of the assembly, to make an unusual move: after first moving to accept the recommended threshold, Mr. Bergstrom withdrew that motion and instead moved to send the proposal back to the Cape Cod Commission for further review.
Several delegates agreed that the universal threshold was not only too restrictive but unnecessary. Mr. Niedzwiecki pointed out that, once the siting and review regulations were in place, any town could forward a wind turbine project to the commission as a discretionary referral. Projects that trip other existing Development of Regional Impact (DRI) thresholds would also automatically go before the CCC.
“This has really been more of an issue of scale when it comes to the thresholds. Sixty-five feet kind of flies in the face of successful projects that have happened in my own community,” Barnstable Delegate Thomas K. Lynch said, referring to three active turbines in his town ranging in height from 128 feet to 155 feet. “By allowing towns some flexibility on the height, you kind of balance a bit of local control with regional initiatives,” Mr. Lynch said.
Spyro Mitrokostas, Yarmouth’s delegate, added that “a wind turbine on a 65-foot tower does not necessarily make it a (project of) regional impact.”
Through its weighted vote system, the assembly approved sending the review threshold back to the Cape Cod Commission in a 82.76 percent to 17.24 percent vote. James Killian of Sandwich voted against the measure, while Thomas K. Lynch of Barnstable, Richard Anderson of Bourne, Julia C. Taylor of Falmouth, and Marcia R. King of Mashpee voted to send the ordinance to the CCC.
The revised language is expected to make allowances for towns that wish to set local mandatory Cape Cod Commission review thresholds. There was less debate over the minimum performance standards, which passed in a 68.63 percent to 31.37 percent vote after only six minutes of discussion. Ms. King voted against the ordinance, and Mr. Lynch, Mr. Anderson, Mr. Killian, and Ms. Taylor voted for it.
In addition to fine-tuning the review threshold, the Cape Cod Commission must also now start work on a technical bulletin to support the noise standard provisions. Mr. Niedzwiecki said the technical bulletin would be developed in cooperation with a professional acoustical engineer and a citizens’ advisory committee. Mr. Niedzwiecki said the process of drafting the technical bulletin could run from three to six months.
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