A legislative committee will visit Cape Cod on Monday to field public input on a number of proposed wind turbine-related bills. The Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy invites residents to attend the 10 AM hearing, which will be held in the Tilden Arts Center of Cape Cod Community College.
A total of eight bills are on the hearing agenda, two of which seek to establish streamlined wind turbine siting regulations (the Wind Energy Siting Reform Act, H. 1775 and S. 1666). Under the proposal, the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources would identify “wind resource areas” throughout Massachusetts – areas with strong potential for wind energy generation facilities – and create an expedited permitting process for those areas.
The expedited permitting process, which would grant waivers from certain town bylaws, would be eligible only to projects with a two-megawatt minimum capacity that also meet new state standards established by a new special advisory group under the auspices of the Massachusetts Energy Facilities Siting Board (EFSB).
The advisory group would establish standards for the development, operation, and decommissioning of onshore wind projects. The bill explicitly requires representation on the group from the Cape Cod Commission.
Among the standards the state would set are for minimum setbacks to mitigate negative noise impacts on abutters. These standards would be tailored to take a wind resource area’s natural characteristics into account. Projects would not be obligated to adhere to those standards, but those that do would qualify for expedited permitting.
Critics claim that this expedited permitting would strip cities and towns of local control over wind energy development, but the bills explicitly call for the creation of a local wind energy permitting board in any municipality identified as a wind resource area.
This three-to-five member board would be responsible for reviewing turbine applications in their town.
Municipalities may opt to charge the local planning board with serving as its wind energy permitting board, or may create a special committee that includes representatives from the town’s planning, zoning, and conservation committees.
The wind energy permitting board would have 60 days to review an application to determine whether it was complete and, if it was, would then provide copies of the permit to all applicable local boards for their review and recommendations. The permitting board must hold at least one public hearing and open a 45-day public comment period for each project.
In areas that also have a regional planning agency, such as Barnstable County’s Cape Cod Commission, that agency would also review the project, providing an extra level of local control. If the board approves the project, it may also assess mitigation fees within state mandated limits; fees may not be so high as to render a project economically not viable.
Turbine developers must also offer the host municipality an opportunity to purchase up to 10 percent of the energy generated by the project. Once approved at the local level, the application would go on to the EFSB for additional review, which would call for another round of public hearings and a public comment period.
The law would provide any “substantially and specifically aggrieved” party an opportunity to appeal a local approval to the EFSB. Conversely, an applicant may appeal a rejection to the local land or superior court.
Three other bills on the agenda for Monday were filed by State Representatives Demetrius J. Atsalis (D – Barnstable) and Timothy R. Madden (D – Nantucket).
One of Rep. Atsalis’s bills directly addresses the controversial issue of “wind turbine syndrome,” which sufferers maintain is directly caused by audible and inaudible noise generated by wind turbines. Symptoms of wind turbine syndrome – which is not a medically recognized condition – include headaches, anxiety, sleeplessness, and nausea. Rep. Atsalis’s proposal would explicitly ban turbine development within 3,000 feet of a residence or a residentially zoned area by blocking any state, regional, or local agency from approving or funding such a project. Rep. Madden’s bill would allow municipal governments to establish “wind exclusion zones” for any land or coastal water area otherwise designated by the state as appropriate for wind turbine development.
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