BUCKLAND – The two dozen or so residents at Wednesday night’s public hearing seemed to agree with the Planning Board that a one-year moratorium on wind turbine proposals would give the town “some breathing space” to hear all sides of the issue and to craft regulations suited to both the rural and village sections of town. But they were divided on whether a moratorium should be adopted for large-scale solar photovoltaic systems.
Both will be on the May 9 annual town meeting warrant, and two-thirds majority votes will be required for the moratoriums to be enacted.
“The clearer and more definite rules we can come up with, the better off we’ll be,” Planning Board Chairman John Gould said of the wind moratorium. He said that Buckland – like Shelburne and neighboring towns – has zoning bylaws that “were not crafted with an eye toward wind and solar.”
“Shelburne was pretty much caught flat-footed – like we are – without (wind turbine) bylaws in place,” he said, alluding to the Mount Massaemet Windfarm proposal that has been submitted under Shelburne’s special permit process.
“Now they have all these very highly motivated people breathing fire in all directions,” he said. “I, personally, don’t want to be in that situation.”
The temporary moratorium for wind energy systems would prohibit building permits for turbines of any size, to give the town time to analyze the possible impacts of such facilities and to enact bylaws “in a manner consistent with sound land use planning goals.” The moratorium would expire on July 1, 2013.
There was some discussion on whether smaller turbines for residential use should be allowed, but Gould said he thought even a windmill for home use would require setbacks beyond those allowable in the current bylaw for special permit applications.
“It seems to me it’s going to be hard to differentiate between commercial and residential use,” remarked Michael McCusker of Upper Street. “That’s always going to be a fuzzy zone.”
“I think it would be a good idea for the moment to hold off on all (wind turbines),” agreed Jan Voorhis of Conway Street. “If they’re sited next to someone else’s home, there could be a problem.”
Gould said the board was considering adding a solar moratorium to its proposal, when it received a residents’ petition for a solar moratorium, also for a year.
Because the town must include petition articles on the annual town meeting warrant, Gould said the Planning Board opted not to have “dueling” solar moratoriums on the warrant, by writing up its own version.
The residents’ proposed article calls for a one-year moratorium on any building permits for solar photovoltaic systems capable of producing more than 150 percent of the energy needed for a home or business – and no larger than a 35-kilowatt system.
Some residents worried that setting a size limitation would hinder solar PV systems from being installed on commercial buildings and on farms that could have large solar arrays that wouldn’t affect neighbors. When asked why a solar moratorium has been proposed, Janet Sinclair, one of the petitioners, said she became concerned after learning there have been some problems with this alternative energy.
“It takes up a huge mass of public subsidies that could be put to better use, and that land gets degraded,” she said. Sinclair has also led the fight against the Mount Massaemet proposal in neighboring Shelburne and against a woodburning power plant in Greenfield.
Voorhis said another issue is that the inverters, used to convert the solar-generated electricity to go into the grid, can be noisy and should be either muffled or sited away from neighboring homes.
Currently, the town’s zoning bylaws do not distinguish between “commercial-scale” and “residential-scale” solar electric systems, so that any size system could get a building permit.
Gould said that the building inspector “would very much appreciate having something spelled out by the towns, for him to go by,” when issuing building permits for solar systems.
He urged residents to help the board to research and create sound zoning bylaws for these energy systems. “This is not a process about figuring out how to exclude wind and solar around town,” he said. “It’s about how to have a reasonable set of standards.”
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