Two Franklin County hilltowns are considering moratoriums on windmill proposals to buy time to adopt specific bylaws governing them.
The Shelburne Planning Board is considering whether to ask voters for at least a year-long moratorium, so the board – in Chairman Matt Marchese’s words – can “work at our own speed and cadence” in developing a wind turbine siting bylaw.
In Heath, after studying commercial wind and solar farms issues for about six months, that town’s Planning Board hopes residents will approve a moratorium on large-scale proposals – giving the board more time to develop the right bylaw. A vote on a temporary moratorium is slated for Feb. 28.
Meanwhile, in Shelburne, where a windfarm had been proposed for Mount Massaemet, town planners discussed whether a moratorium is necessary, or whether it would be possible for the board to put together its bylaw in time for May’s annual town meeting. Their meeting this week was attended by roughly 25 residents of Shelburne and neighboring towns, whose attention on windmills was focused by the Mount Massaemet proposal, even though it was been withdrawn, at least for now.
The planners also are considering asking voters to create a wind turbine advisory committee to help the Planning Board find the research and expertise needed to put a sound bylaw together.
After speaking with Town Council Donna _MacNicol, Marchese said the board could ask to put a moratorium article on the annual town meeting warrant, but that it should specify a duration and the purpose – which is to give the board time to develop a bylaw.
Marchese said a year-long moratorium would be viewed as a reasonable period, while a longer moratorium – for instance, a five-year period – is “unreasonable.”
If the board wants a moratorium, Marchese said, MacNicol recommends asking for a one-year moratorium, with the proviso that the board comes back to the town with one or more options.
Shelburne Planning Board member Beth Simmonds pointed out that last year’s proposal to site eight wind turbines near the ridge on Mount Massaemet Waswithdrawn by Frederick D. Field “without prejudice,” which means that he could reapply for a special permit at any time.
“With a moratorium, what kind of legal recourse would he have?” she asked. “A moratorium seems prejudicial to him. … He’s been given the right to come back.”
If the board began working with a template wind turbine siting bylaw, and had an early public hearing on it, any turbine proposals submitted after the public hearing would be put on hold until after residents have voted on a wind bylaw. If voters approved the Planning Board’s bylaw, anyone proposing the wind facility would have to abide by the criteria established in the bylaw. But if the town rejects the bylaw, the applicant would have to go through a special permit process, to get the OK of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
No guidance now
Marchese pointed out that existing town bylaws gave no guidance to either the ZBA or to the applicant.
Norman Davenport, a farmer whose property was to be leased as part of the Massaemet wind farm, wanted to know if a moratorium would apply to wind research.
“I don’t think it would preclude research,” said Marchese. Marchese also noted that the Mount Massaemet region is the only viable site for a wind farm in Shelburne, according to a Wind Energy Map website, that was posted by the state about three years ago.
The map shows that wind speeds along the ridge range from 6 to 7 meters per second – which is about the lowest wind speed deemed viable for a large-scale wind proposal.
Marchese noted that other sites in the Berkshire Mountains have higher wind speeds. Nine windmills are scheduled to be built this summer in Monroe, for example.
When asked about the map, Tyler Studds, project manager for the state’s Clean Energy Center, told The Recorder that the map consisted of public data on wind speed, and provides only “minimal information about areas that meet a threshold.”
“It doesn’t, in itself, identify viable spots (for commercial turbines),” said Studds. “A whole host of other factors are considered when qualifying or disqualifying a site.”
The Planning Board was given sample wind-turbine bylaws created by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and by Jim Barry, western regional coordinator for the state Department of Energy and Resources.
The board is to review the sample bylaws and to meet again on Feb. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School auditorium.
In Heath, a public hearing is already planned for Feb. 15, at 7 p.m. in the Community Hall, so that people can comment on a proposed moratorium, which would put on hold any proposals for large-scale wind energy systems and/or large-scale, ground-mounted solar photovoltaic installations.
A temporary moratorium is o be voted on at a special town meeting Feb. 28.
If approved, the temporary moratorium would be in effect until the annual town meeting in May. Then, according to Planning Board member Douglas Mason, the board plans to request a one-year moratorium. He said the board did not want to propose a one-year moratorium at a special town meeting, which usually draws a smaller number of voters.
Mason said the board also intends to create a wind turbine advisory study committee, to help the Planning Board with research.
“On the Planning Board, we started to do the commercial wind bylaw about six months ago. It’s so complicated,” he said. “There’s been a huge learning curve, with so many myths both about the benefits and detriments,” he said.
There are no active proposals for either commercial wind or solar facilities in Heath, said Mason. But a former plan to do a grant-funded wind feasibility study on Hosmer Road property started town discussions of whether a bylaw for large-scale wind turbine siting was needed. That feasibility study has since been dropped.
“Heath already has a residential wind bylaw,” noted Mason, who installed a l0)6-foot-tall windmill on his land in 2007, to reduce energy costs and cut heating oil usage.
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