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Brewster turbine power purchase approved

BREWSTER – Selectmen Monday night voted unanimously to approve the power purchase and lease agreements with the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative for two proposed 410-foot-tall municipal wind turbines. The two documents spell out the terms of the county energy cooperative’s lease, including annual payments of $100,000 to the town, as well as the conditions and pricing for the town to purchase the energy generated by the turbines.

“I am confident in the relationship, as I’ve come to understand it, with CVEC,” said Selectmen John Dickson. “I think it is time for us to take the next step.”

CVEC needed the signed documents to go to the state Department of Public Utilities to start the process of seeking an exemption from town zoning bylaws. The turbine project, after a string of town meeting and committee approvals, failed to get a special permit from the planning board this spring and, in May, missed the two-thirds vote needed to approve a town meeting article to exempt municipal wind turbines from the special permit requirement.

The logic of the appeal to the DPU is an exemption that applies when a small minority (the planning board in this case) allegedly subverts the will of the majority and blocks a project voters have said repeatedly they want done.

At their meeting Monday night, selectmen sought to restrict comment from the audience to the two agreements, and many speakers did that, but wind turbines have become both emotional and personal to some.

“I was really sad when I read your lease because there are no conditions or protections for the people who live in the neighborhood,” said Kara Duff, who lives more than 7,000 feet from the proposed site. “You must be really convinced that there will be no harm to the people who live in this area.”

Duff has a hearing impairment and said she is more sensitive to the low frequency sounds emitted by turbines. She was dismayed that the lease offered compensation to CVEC if the turbines had to be shut down for any period of time because shadows cast by the spinning blades were affecting residents, but there were no such provisions for homeowners whose property values declined.

Speaking for WFCC, which rents space on a communications tower in the industrial park where the turbines would be located, Vince DeVito asked the board to postpone a vote and look at engineering reports that he said show there will be signal interference from the turbines. But selectmen said they had attempted to meet with WFCC and been rebuffed.

Selectmen contend that a 2009 town meeting vote allowed them to negotiate these contracts on behalf of the town but Christopher Senie, an attorney representing 30 residents, told the board his reading of that town meeting article led him to believe they lacked the authority to enter into any such agreements. He suggested another townwide vote. Senie said selectmen had a built-in conflict of interest in gaining revenues as long as the turbines were running that would inhibit them from shutting them down should health issues crop up.

Selectman Ed Lewis denied there was a question of the board’s authority to enter into contracts. “We asked our town counsel and CVEC’s counsel and they said we are correct,” Lewis said. He added that the town would be doing an exhaustive sound study before construction begins.