WESTMINSTER – The Planning Board has increased the size and output regulations of small-scale commercial wind turbines in the latest draft of the proposed wind-power bylaw it began working on last year.
The board held a public hearing Monday night on the most recent changes to the bylaw, which is set to go before voters at Town Meeting on May 5.
Among the amendments are an increase in the maximum height of small-scale commercial wind turbines from 150 feet to 225 feet, and in the maximum output capacity from 100 kilowatts per hour to 750.
While the Planning Board had intended to start with regulating much smaller wind-power ventures in town, the results of a public hearing on Jan. 18 on the initial draft of the bylaw determined the thresholds were too low.
That meeting was attended by Yeager Breidenbach of Associated Wind Developers of Plymouth and wind-turbine permitting consultant Howard Quin of Howard Quin Consulting LLC of Sudbury, who determined that the original specifications set forth by the Planning Board would create turbines that wouldn’t be tall enough to work properly and wouldn’t generate enough power to make them economically feasible.
Above the tree line, Breidenbach had explained in January, there is a turbulent zone of about 25 to 30 feet that the rotor and blades must be placed higher than; otherwise, the turbulence would cause damage to the expensive machinery.
Town Planner Stephen Wallace said the new numbers took
Breidenbach’s advice into account and represent the proper height above the tree line in the roughly eight areas, mostly north of Route 2, that Breidenbach and Quin identified as feasible locations for commercial ventures, as well as the output necessary to create a lucrative return on such an investment.
No changes were made to the specifications for residential-scale wind turbines, which remain at 15 kilowatts per hour at a maximum height of 35 feet above grade.
The Planning Board also voted Monday to allow residential wind-energy facilities, regardless of the zoning status of their location.
Initially, the bylaw stated only that residentially zoned areas would be considered for such projects, and commercially and industrially zoned areas would not.
“I just can’t see why we would limit residential wind energy,” said Chairwoman Marie Auger, reasoning that the town should be less restrictive when it comes to green-energy generation.
Wallace said feedback from town counsel on the bylaw had only been received about 30 minutes before the start of the meeting, and he hadn’t had ample time to review the comments.
The board voted to extend the public hearing to its next meeting, scheduled for next Monday at 7 p.m., to allow Wallace to give the public another draft that had accounted for town counsel’s input and questions that had been brought up by attendees, including the use of net metering and the possibility of whole developments or neighborhoods wanting to collaborate on wind-energy projects.
More information about the proposed wind-power bylaw can be found on Westminster’s town website at www.westminster-ma.gov/pages/WestminsterMA_Planning/Wind_Power_Bylaw_Page.
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