March 21, 2012

Shelburne voters face ban on large wind power

By DIANE BRONCACCIO, Recorder staff, The Recorder, 21 March 2012

SHELBURNE – Annual town meeting voters in May will see warrant articles by citizens’ petition to ban large, commercial scale wind farms, while allowing residential systems in town by special permit only, But selectmen say there may not be enough time, between now and the May 1 town meeting, for the Planning Board to go through a public hearing process and make any recommendation for these petitioned articles.

In a selectmen’s meeting Tuesday afternoon, the board discussed a petition, signed by 45 residents requesting amendments to the town’s zoning bylaws:

• That wind turbines for on-premises home or business use be allowed in any part of the town only through a special permit, and that, by definition, any resale of excess electricity produced be limited.

• That commercial-scale wind turbines be excluded as allowable electric generating facilities within town.

The petition also asks that the Planning Board hold a public hearing as early as possible, to review and report on the petition articles.

Planning Board Chairman V. Matthew Marchese, who attended Tuesday’s meeting, said his board, by law, has 65 days from the notification date to hold a public hearing on such a proposal – which could put the public hearing after the May 1 annual town meeting.

But even if the board could hold the public hearing as early as possible, by early April, after a 14-day posting, the board has the right to continue the hearing, to get more information about the issues, he said.

“Given what they’re asking, I don’t foresee this (happening) in only one meeting. When you’re asking us to completely ban something, we have to do some research,” Marchese said. “Also, when they’re asking us to carve out a new section (on residential use), we have to discuss setbacks and other issues.” Marchese pointed out that the Planning Board has already started looking at developing a wind turbine siting bylaw for the town, and is looking into some of the same issues with large-scale wind projects.

Of the 45 people who signed the petition, 26 are residents in the Patten Hill/Shelburne Center section, where Mount Massaemet Windfarm Inc. had proposed building a 20megawatt, eight-turbine facility last summer.

The letter to selectmen that accompanied the petition was signed by David W. Patrick of Patten Road.

Selectmen accepted the petition which only required the signatures of 10 voters. The petition now goes to the town clerk to verify voter registration of those who signed it.

The full Planning Board will receive the petition, when it meets tonight at 7 p.m. in the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School. The board is scheduled to meet with Frederick “Don” Field, who proposed the Mount Massaemet Windfarm last year, then withdrew the proposal. At the time, he said he planned to come back to the town with a more detailed plan.

Selectman Robert Manners pointed out that, if town meeting voters adopted the ban on commercial-scale wind turbines, the article would have to go to the state Attorney General for review – and that it would likely fail in its present state, without the Planning Board’s review.

Selectman Joseph Judd said the articles should be put on the warrant and discussed on town meeting floor. After discussion, town officials could recommend passing over the articles.

“I would like to see it get out there for discussion,” said Judd.

One of the unknowns Tuesday was whether a town official would have the right to ask voters to “pass over” voting on articles submitted by petition, or whether that town meeting action would have to come from one of the petitioners.

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