CHARLESTOWN – With a moratorium running out Sept. 15, the Town Council is on the verge of passing an interim wind ordinance that prohibits wind turbines of any kind. The Planning Commission had hoped to incorporate rules for homeowner wind energy, but it ran out of time to change the existing ordinance.
In March, the council unanimously adopted a wind ordinance with a six-month moratorium, recognizing that changes needed to be made in order to address public comments.
Ruth Platner, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, said: “We think a better effort at this time would be to write an ordinance for homeowner use and have it be an independent section of the zoning ordinance. Small homeowner wind energy devices are very different from the larger turbines that have been proposed and they shouldn’t be in the same ordinance section. There may still be opposition to these, but we won’t know that until we remove industrial turbines from the discussion.”
In explaining the delay, Platner said, “Meetings and comments are dominated by concerns related to industrial scale wind turbines. Public hearings revealed that details of the ordinance were in need of clarification and the public wanted more regulation than we had proposed.”
On the advice of Town Solicitor Peter Ruggiero, the commission decided last week to go back to the drawing board. In the meantime, on Wednesday, the council will schedule a public hearing to adopt changes to the ordinance that would prohibit wind turbines, period.
The council will also consider another six-month moratorium, which directs the Planning Commission to develop ways to regulate applications and design standards. The commission is taking the approach of regulating homeowner-size turbines before tackling larger ones. If all goes as planned both will be adopted immediately after a hearing on Sept. 12.
Town Planner Ashley Hahn-Morris clarified the difficulties to the council in a late July memorandum: “The Planning Commission would like to investigate bifurcating the current document into two separate ordinances with the main focus being on homeowner-sized turbines.”
Platner plans on inviting local companies that sell small turbines to a workshop to describe homeowner turbines and what types might make sense in the different parts of Charlestown, and then write an ordinance for them.
The ordinance now in effect allows for net metering and turbines for homeowners. Under net metering, owners would receive retail credit for at least a portion of the electricity they generate.
Future turbines would fall under the jurisdiction of the town’s Zoning Board and Planning Commission. The town’s original wind ordinance, adopted early last year, gave the council sole permitting authority over certain large-scale projects.
It also only allowed for wind facilities generating electricity consumed on-site or for use by municipal facilities under the state’s net metering requirements.
Most comments on the ordinance called for more stringent regulation of large turbines in order to preserve the rural character of the town and to address residents’ health concerns. Applicants have been required to provide a more detailed site plan, including a neighborhood analysis to evaluate sounds, aesthetics, shadows, and safety and wildlife concerns.
Some residents said they would like to see that setback requirements – the distance between the turbine foundation and the property line – be increased to a 5:1 ratio, as opposed to 3:1, and that no turbines be taller than 200 feet. Still others questioned the economic viability of wind power.
“Windy areas without tall forest might be good sites for small turbines, but those conditions are found in parts of Charlestown where the houses tend to be close together,” Platner said. “Writing a small wind ordinance won’t be without challenge, but we hope it can be a more positive discussion. If anyone in Charlestown has analyzed their land for a small wind turbine, we would welcome hearing from them.”
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