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Shelburne residents debate wind power

An ongoing debate over wind power in the town of Shelburne has spawned public hearings and a petition calling for a ban on large-scale industrial wind power generation. Drafted in response to developer Don Field’s initial proposal to place eight 480-foot wind turbines on Mount Massaemat, the petition to ban commercial wind—and coal and nuclear—power development will be voted on by town residents May 1.

If the town decides to support the ban, any wind development in Shelburne will be limited to small, residential-scale projects.

At an April 10 meeting at the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School, David Patrick, spokesman for the organizers of the petition drive, explained that that its primary goal was to protect the town from large commercial wind installations, an aim which seemed in conflict with a Planning Board vote to pursue a one-year moratorium on wind development that would include regulation of residential wind installations.

“We are not suggesting that residential uses of wind should not be regulated,” Patrick stated on behalf of petitioners. But, he added, “that can be done any time if the town’s boards or other petitioners wish to do so.”

The plan for a year-long moratorium was thrown into questionable legal territory when Field filed a revised application for his wind farm project before the Planning Board could pass the moratorium. The new application calls for only four 328-foot tall turbines on the mountain, in a move that downsizes Field’s commercial aspirations and would seem to be an attempt to give ground to opponents of his proposal. The Zoning Board, however, noted that Field’s first application was submitted without any supporting documents.

In contrast, Patrick’s group of petitioners claims to have spent more than a thousand hours researching the effects of industrial wind turbines, hearing expert opinions from health consultants, real estate professionals, wind and solar power representatives and acousticians, as well as from Massachusetts residents already living in proximity to active wind turbine projects. The group contends its studies have concluded that large-scale wind installations will produce a negative impact on health, wildlife, ecosystems and property values, and that “large wind turbines—whether 250 or 500 feet tall—do not belong anywhere near people or homes.” Patrick has stressed that the petitioners “strongly support responsible alternative energy sources,” but only if they are “appropriately sited.”

Though many residents of Shelburne and neighboring Buckland are in agreement with the petitioners, there are also those who support the proposed wind project, citing the ever-increasing cost of energy and the potential cost savings on electricity that might be reaped from such an installation. Wind is also a significantly cleaner energy source than nuclear or coal or other fossil fuels. Meetings, public hearings and votes on other proposed moratoria are also occurring within the next month in the surrounding towns of Buckland, Colrain and Heath.