WESTMINSTER – The Planning Board, working on crafting a wind power bylaw for the past few years, presented a draft of the proposed law to a crowded selectmen’s meeting room at Town Hall Wednesday night and found it needs significant reworking based on input offered from wind industry experts in attendance.
Previously, the board had proposed three separate bylaws governing the regulation of industrial, small-scale commercial and residential wind turbines, according to Town Planner Stephen Wallace, but decided to develop the current draft without industrial-scale regulations, finding such turbines to be inappropriate for the town and a disruption of its rural character, an aspect highly regarded by many residents.
According to Wallace and Planning Board members Michael Fortin and William “Bud” Taylor II, the major reason for developing the bylaw is to take a proactive approach in protecting Westminster from the possibility of future state or federal regulations by setting its own compliance standards and determining where wind facilities would be allowed.
The iteration of the bylaw presented at the forum calls for small-scale commercial turbines to generate 100 kilowatts per hour with a maximum of height of 150 feet, and residential-scale machines to generate 15 kph with a maximum height of 35 feet above grade.
According to Yeager Breidenbach of Associated Wind Developers of Plymouth and wind turbine permitting consultant Howard Quin of Howard Quin
Consulting LLC of Sudbury, the numbers currently set for small-scale commercial wind turbines aren’t physically tall enough to work and simply won’t generate enough power to make them worth the investment.
“The nature of wind is as it goes through and over trees, it’s going to cause a turbulent zone, and that turbulent zone extends above the tree line about 25, 30 feet, so you need to be above that turbulent zone to be able to get that steady wind. Otherwise, it’ll damage your machine by having the rotor vibrate back and forth as it catches that turbulent wind,” said Breidenbach.
Aside from the chance of damaging an already expensive piece of machinery, there are other costs to consider as well, such as that of connecting to the power grid, he said.
“National Grid requires you to buy all kinds of switches, transformers, cutoff switches, reconditioned lines to three-phase power and that could be upwards of a million dollars a mile,” Breidenbach said.
And there are predevelopment costs, Breidenbach said, including expenses for biologists, architects, foundation plans and many other considerations. In order for turbine investors to get any sort of return on their investment, they often have to build bigger machines than they expected, which require more money up front but offer a much more lucrative return, he said.
In order for a small-scale commercial turbine to be effective and worth the investment, Breidenbach suggested what he called a “queen-sized turbine,” a 225-kilowatt machine with a height of about 200 feet, up to a 750-kilowatt turbine 250 to 300 feet in height.
The sound standards in the current bylaw require a proposed wind turbine not exceed ambient background levels as measured from the nearest property line, but Quin said it’s simply not possible.
“Every turbine is going to create sound, of any type,” said Quin. “The question then becomes what sound levels above background are considered tolerable.
Quin said state standards are about 10 decibels above background, but permitting usually allows about six or seven.
“In this area, looking at the way the background is, I’m guessing it would be around 35 decibels at the highest in the rural areas, and that’s usually considered acceptable by almost all residents under normal circumstances,” Quin said.
Breidenbach and Quin said they’ve already surveyed a good amount of the town’s land and found only a handful of places where turbines could be placed, mainly in the northern and southwestern corners of the municipality.
The higher altitudes of those locations make them more desirable for turbines, as well as the open space, according to Breidenbach.
“Not only do they have three-phase power, but they have room on that line,” Breidenbach said. “A lot of lines are congested and you can’t even use them in the first place.”
Despite knowing they’ll have to rework pieces of the bylaw, Taylor and Wallace are happy to find out earlier in the game, rather than later.
“We’ve done an awful lot of research and we’ve learned from other people’s mistakes,” said Taylor, referring to the results of projects they studied elsewhere in the state and the nation.
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