NEW IPSWICH – Ordinance revisions intended to set stricter regulations on wind energy, discussed at a Planning Board hearing Monday, raised concerns from the town’s only wind developer, who says the measures are too stringent for turbine construction.
Sixteen residents gathered in the Mascenic Regional High School auditorium to discuss the zoning amendments put forward by board members in order increase protections for New Ipswich residents in the face of a proposal from Austin, Texas-based Pioneer Green Energy to erect up to eight industrial turbines on Kidder Mountain.
“We as a board are not opposed to wind farms – we are opposed to negative impacts on our community,” Dekker said.
He explained that learning about negative impacts in other communities – widespread complaints, plummeting property values and, in rare cases, residents abandoning their homes altogether – prompted the board to seek out stronger zoning. Dekker did not cite specific towns as examples.
But wind energy developers say the proposal is too restrictive. Pioneer’s Adam Cohen said Tuesday that the revised ordinance “effectively zones wind out.”
Cohen cited significant changes to the ordinance section titled “Noise Level Limits and Measurement,” which states that noise levels from wind turbines shall not exceed 33 decibels “anywhere at any time on a Non-Participating Landowner’s property.”
The 33-dB cap is too low for wind turbines, according to Cohen, who added that the board’s estimate of New Ipswich background noise – 20 dB or less – may also be too low.
“A truck driving down the street is 50 to 60 decibels,” said Cohen. “For us to meet the standard they’re imposing, you couldn’t be within four miles of a turbine. In a town that’s six miles wide, that’s a ban.” Pioneer Green is also eyeing Temple for development.
The intent of the 25-page proposal, according to Dekker, is to protect the residents, buildings, animals and natural environs of New Ipswich if wind energy does come to town.
The board hopes to do this by proactively establishing guidelines so potential applicants have a clear a sense of what the town will accept. The original ordinance passed in 2010 by a vote of 797 to 454.
“We want potential applicants to know exactly what our standards and regulations are,” stressed Dekker.
The proposed amendment also prohibits wind energy systems from inciting more than “sporadic complaints” from the greater community.
The benchmark is derived from a 1974 Environmental Protection Agency document that gauges the relationship between wind turbine noise levels and community response. Cohen expressed concern that the board was referencing such a dated document.
Cohen said that he sent a letter to the Planning Board on Oct. 26 that outlined his concerns, but said the board did not give him an opportunity to speak at their working meetings.
He added that the board’s proposal is “problematic and troubling,” but holds out hope that the New Ipswich residents will come forth with their support for wind. “I think what’s important is that the community will have another chance to vote on it,” said Cohen. “It’s very consistent with what the town is trying to do, which is to grow economically and add jobs.”
The new 33-dB limit will also determine the setback of the turbines; specific numbers regarding setback distances from roads and homes are not included in the proposed ordinance. Rather, the burden of proof would be on the applicant, owner or operator of the wind systems to demonstrate to the Planning Board that proposed sites will be “sufficient to protect people, domestic and farm animals, public and private property, and utilities from Debris Hazard.”
The proposed ordinance limits the height of wind turbines to 450 feet. It also attempts to establish more stringent guidelines for assessing visual impact.
Board member Liz Freeman acknowledged that reactions to wind energy – especially its aesthetic – are inherently subjective.
“Some people say, ‘Oh, turbines are so graceful.’ Others say they’re ugly,” Freeman said, adding that the board made every effort to build more objective measurements of visual impact into the proposal.
Many of the measurements are relative: it’s not how far away the turbine is; it’s how far away it appears to be, or for how long it’s actually in view from, say, a moving car.
But the language regarding visual impact does not contain specific numbers or distances.
Among the residents in attendance at the hearing was Temple Select Board Chair and Planning Board representative John Kieley, who said he came to express his gratitude to the New Ipswich Planning Board.
“Unlike New Ipswich, Temple doesn’t have an ordinance [concerning large wind energy systems], so we’ve been scrambling with that,” Kieley said, adding, “We appreciate the board’s work.”
Cohen had brought a machine to the hearing that emits varying decibel levels, in the hope that attendees would be able to “sample” different noise levels, as well as a sound expert, but the board declined to hear from either. Dekker requested that Cohen’s representative submit his comments to the board, which would pass them onto their own audio experts.
Butch Maki, a landowner on Kidder Mountain who hopes to lease property to Pioneer, expressed concern that the ordinance requires that the full terms of leases or easements be recorded with the Registry of Deeds.
After the hearing, Maki said, “It’s a private contract. You shouldn’t have to disclose that to the town. Unless it’s for tax purposes.”
Freeman responded that beneficiaries of the development should be transparent about their gains.
After the meeting, Dekker expressed disappointment at the size of the crowd. “I had expected a bigger turnout,” Dekker said. “No matter what your feelings are on the issue, it’s something that’s going to have a big impact on the town.”
New Ipswich residents will have an opportunity to make their opinions heard at the four upcoming hearings scheduled before the proposal goes up for a vote in March.
The next hearing is on Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. at the New Ipswich Town Offices.
When asked if he expected better attendance at subsequent meetings, Dekker responded, “I’ll wait to be pleasantly surprised.”
This story appeared in the Dec. 1, 2011, edition of the Ledger-Transcript.
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