SHELBURNE–Planning Board members here met again on Wednesday, Jan. 11 to continue their informational session about the possibility of adopting an industrial wind turbine bylaw. Unable to obtain the Memorial Hall theater space for the meeting, it was instead held in the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School (BSE) cafeteria.
Planning Board Chair Vincent Matthew Marchese a letter brought to them by Selectmen’s Chair John Payne in December that posed several questions, including whether wind turbines should be covered in a separate section of any bylaw to be crafted and be limited to overlay districts similar to cell towers. It included bylaw drafts from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) and the state Department of Economic Resources to use as templates in the wording of a potential industrial wind turbine bylaw.
Marchese also recalled Payne’s advice that the Planning Board could take one bylaw draft and schedule a public hearing about that draft, so that any application that comes in after the public hearing would be subject to the draft, were it to be approved. The idea behind it was that the bylaw can be changed and modified and applications would be subject to new versions. At the same time, local planners could craft warrant articles for May annual town meeting regarding both an industrial wind turbine bylaw and a moratorium bylaw, such that if the first is rejected, the second Could be seen as a back-up.
Payne had mentioned at the Dec. 14 meeting that a citizen came up with the moratorium idea, defined as a temporary advisory board to research and come up with recommendations on which wind proposals to accept, if any, by a predetermined disbandment time. The recommendations would then be used in the permitting process.
“We’re trying to avoid some of the unpleasantries with the last applicant,” said Marchese, referring to the trouble multiple town boards had with Shelburne native and Littleton resident Frederick “Don” Field’s special permit application for a proposed wind farm on Mount Massaemet consisting of eight 2.5-megawatt turbines. Marchese noted that until there is a bylaw change, any applicant would go through the same process Field went through. That would include Field, who withdrew his proposal on Nov. 17 “without prejudice” and thus is allowed to reapply.
On Jan. 11, Planning Board member Doug Finn submitted a copy of a wind bylaw from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. Marchese talked to FRCOG Planning and Development Director Peggy Sloan, who is working with Heath and other towns to develop industrial wind turbine bylaws, and found that the town would have to apply for technical assistance on this subject if they want FRCOG’s help. Marchese added that this help involves bylaw drafting and redrafting from Planning Board suggestions, and funding, determined applicable by FRCOG, for the research and drafting process.
Norman Davenport, who had recused himself as Shelburne Conservation Commission chair during discussion of Field’s wind farm proposal as he was a stakeholder in that plan, said that he had been approached by Field a year earlier regarding using his land. He entered into a two-year agreement with Field last spring for wind quality studies on Mount Massaemet.
“It’s not until a year from this May when a determination will be made and then the bigwigs will get involved,” Davenport said. “Right now it’s a big research project and I want to get the town’s response on it.”
Davenport introduced Massachusetts Clean Energy Center resources Project Manager Tyler Studds, who said that although he is employed by the state, what he does is facilitate the connections among technical consultants and the applicant, landowners and town. Studds said that he determines if wind farm projects are technically feasible, legally permissible and economically viable. He assured the group that studies–acoustic, environmental and community studies–would be made to see if a proposal meets state regulations.
“We have a program called Commonwealth Winds that provides grants for feasibility studies,” said Studds. “We have worked with several towns and facilitated with fact-finding that help a community make a decision on proposals. We recognize project impacts on health concerns and property values. We want to make sure that potential impacts are balanced with energy creation in the community.”
Studds’ credentials with the Center include 29 projects across the state for wind turbines of one kilowatt or higher, and an additional 80 wind projects specifically for companies. He explained the use of a “sodar,” a sensor that sends a sonar pulse into the wind to measure turbulence, sound monitoring and wind shear aspect, adding that data solely from sodar is not sufficient to establish a turbine tower. Studds said state regulations do not allow wind farm projects that increase ambient sound by 10 decibels or more.
Resident Mike Perry asked whether the latest technology would be used to determine the effects of inaudible, as well as audible, sound on public health in such research. Studds answered that although various health organizations have weighed in on the sound issue, it is mostly believed that sound outside of the human hearing level from 200-20,000hertz does not affect human beings.
Perry said he has heard that Falmouth, MA residents living within a two-mile radius of the turbine suffer from stress, sleeplessness and other symptoms. Studds said that the Department of Environmental Protection is looking into these health complaints.
Six days after the meeting, the state released a 164-page document online at mass.gov/dep/energy/wind/panel.htm denying that wind turbines have any connection to reported health effects classified as “wind turbine syndrome,” including psychological distress and mental health problems from noise, photic stimulation seizures from the flicker effect, pain or stiffness, diabetes, high blood pressure and transitory cognitive effects. The report does say that it is possible turbines could cause sleep problems.
A March 4, 2009 report from the Northern Maine Medical Center that was passed out at the local meeting that notes, however, “the deployment of industrial wind facilities in close proximity to places where people live, work or attend schools results in negative health effects; including and especially sleep deprivation and … chronic stress [that] can result in many consequential
negative health effects, some of them serious, over the long term.”
Planning Board members invited Sloan and Massachusetts Green Communities Program Western Regional Coordinator Jim Barry to appear at future meetings. With selectmen’s approval, the board expected to have Town Counsel Donna MacNicol present at their Wednesday, Jan. 25meeting at 7 p.m. at the school.