BUZZARDS BAY – The Cape Cod Commission voted 9-3 early Thursday night to reject the four-turbine New Generation Wind proposal, denying the controversial and high-visibility Buzzards Bay project without prejudice after more than two years of review.
The final decision came after nearly three hours of deliberative but often confusing discussion about the first land-based wind-farm proposal in Massachusetts, a project proponents contend fits into Gov. Deval Patrick’s push to reduce Massachusetts’ dependence on fossil fuels by 2020.
The commission deadlocked on a 6-6 vote about the possible detriments of the proposal outweighing the probable benefits. This seemed to surprise the membership. It prompted a 10-minute recess. Commission chairman Peter Graham of Truro was not pleased.
“It’s incumbent on us to reach a decision on this issue; I move to reconsider it,” he said after the recess. “A default means the commission has weighed in against the project. I’m very serious about that aspect. This thing has to be reconsidered.”
Members agreed. Bourne member Michael Blanton acknowledged the benefits vs. detriments issue was complicated and difficult to assess. The discussion meandered. Some members lamented “language issues” that need sorting out in a policy sense but that should not be broached in development of regional impact (DRI) discussions.
Other members reminded the group their New Generation decision was not plebiscite on wind energy; rather that it was review of an independent project.
“For me, the deadlock underscores the difficulty of the project and the proposal before us,” Blanton said. “I still say we should err on the side of (public) health, well being and welfare.”
“We’re very much on the fence,” noted Brewster member Elizabeth Taylor.
Commission Executive Director Paul Niedzwiecki was also concerned about the tie vote and its ramifications; which he did not explain to the audience. “We need an affirmative vote on this,” he said. “Two ‘no’ votes means the commission will not be able to move forward. There are serious consequences in not being able to come to a decision.”
The next vote to deny the proposal passed on a 9-3 showing; with Barnstable County Commissioner Mary Pat Flynn, minority representative John Harris and Barnstable member Roy Richardson opposed. The tally was counted twice to assure accuracy.
The final vote to accept a sub-committee recommendation to deny the plan was routinely approved.
The hearing room in the First District Courthouse at Barnstable was packed again with alternative energy enthusiasts and wind-farm opponents, most of who were intent on protecting their property values.
After the final decision, Blanton said no sub-committee work at the commission “has ever achieved this level of interest. There were 35 pounds of testimony offered.”
New Generation Wind has procedural options. It could re-file its wind-farm proposal with the agency and perhaps advance smaller than industrial-grade turbines; with some solar options included. Or it could file an appeal of the commission decision at Barnstable Superior Court.
Tudor Ingersoll of Buzzards Bay, a New Generation principal, sidestepped a question about his intentions.
Mark Hebb of Buzzards Bay, who helped organize resident opposition to the wind farm planned off Scenic Highway and Route 25, said he was generally pleased with the commission’s performance and the outcome.
“It’s a victory,” he said. “They followed the will of their sub-committee. I think the deadlock came because some of the members were confused.”
Suzanne Hebb was also pleased. “They listened to the will of the people,” she said.
Should New Generation opt to resubmit a revised proposal to the commission, it would also fall under Bourne’s revised wind-generation bylaw; which essentially bans industrial-grade turbines in town.
There are 19 voting commission members. Some did not attend the hearing. Wellfleet member Roger Putnam recused himself.
The final deliberation by the agency received heightened interest when the secretaries of the Massachusetts Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection said a denial of New Generation plans would likely set a precedent for any other alternative-energy ventures to be brought to the commission.
The public health secretary contended there is no documented scientific evidence that turbines are injurious to public health.