SHELBURNE – The wind power issue here became more complex over the last few weeks when former Shelburne resident Frederick “Don” Field submitted a new proposal application for a series of wind turbines on Mt. Massaemet on Monday, April 2. The existence ofthe application was unknown to most, including the Planning Board at their meeting the following night, until the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) reviewed Field’s application that Thursday. The Planning Board had voted to pursue a one-year moratorium on commercial wind projects the day after the new application was apparently submitted to the ZBA.
“The clock started April 5,” said Planning Board Chairman Matt Marchese during the board’s April 11 meeting. “The Planning Board, Conservation Commission and Board of Health have 30 days, or to May 5, to bring comments to the ZBA.The ZBA must have a pubic hearing on the application within 65 days, or to June 9.”
Marchese said that Field, in his new application, has used the Department of Energy model bylaw or template as a basis for the proposal’s compatibility with a wind bylaw Shelburne has yet to construct. With doubts about any way this proposal is more complete than the last one was, he asked to reserve board comments on the proposal until the ZBA holds a public hearing.
There are various differences between Field’s former application, which was withdrawn on Nov. 17,2011, and this one. Instead of eight 2.5-megawatt turbines each standing 420 feet from the base to the top end of a turbine blade while parallel to the structure, the new application calls for four 1.5-megawatt turbines with maximum height of 389 feet each.
The blade diameter was changed from 320 feet to 253 feet. Also, whereas the previous eight were to be about 200 feet below the 1,595-foot ridgeline, the new four appear to be about 40-50 feet below the ridgeline, based on maps provided.
The 340-plus-acre wind farm site would be located on property owned by the Gould, Field and Dole families, who would lease the area to Field’s company, Mt.Massaemet Windfarm, Inc. Field estimates, based on the Florida, MA payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, of $9,000 per megawatt as a guide, the town will receive $1.35 million in revenue over the course of the turbines’ 25-year lifespan. The application addresses various controversial issues about the turbines, notably visual impact, sound level and shadow or “flicker.”
“For the most part, the turbines will be sheltered from view within sizeable portions of Shelburne Falls by buildings, trees and the steep topography of Mount Massaemet,” writes Field in the application. “With the offset provided between dwellings and the intervening wooded hillsides, it should be expected that noise generated by the rotor blades will be below ambient levels. Homes on the west side or in Shelburne Falls are over 4,000 feet away and should not be impacted by flicker to a great extent.”
Those opposed to commercial wind in town panned the report Field says he based his application on. That includes Shelburne resident Raymond Hartman who, at the public hearing, called it “junk science” and pointed to what he called examples of misrepresented source material.
Hartman, Dave Patrick, Mike Parry and Peter Joppe, four of the 45 residents who signed a wind bylaw petition in April seeking a ban on commercial wind turbines, were represented at the April 11 meeting by Northampton lawyer and former Ashfield resident Tom Lesser. Town Counsel Donna MacNicol represented the Planning Board.
“Don Field’s application does not change our stance,” said Patrick. “This petition is the only way right now for the town to vote ‘no’ to commercial wind turbines. We hope the Planning Board closes the hearing for the petition to meet all requirements for voting at the annual town meeting.”
Parry said he believed that removing commercial wind projects from consideration and have the ZBA work on small premise wind projects was a less daunting task. He pointed out the lack of bylaw language currently for wind turbines, saying, “we have a page and a half of what a sign is, but almost none on wind.”
Marchese stood by the Planning Board’s proposed moratorium on wind turbines for a year, saying that if those who mounted the petition to enact a bylaw banning commerical wind wanted such a ban, they should have submitted their research to the Planning Board instead because “we were hoping to develop something of this nature.”
Lesser assured and the meeting that even if the petition passes and commercial wind is banned, “that does not mean the Planning Board could not make bylaws that may allow commercial wind.”
In defense of the petition ban, Hartman named numerous states and countries that have a minimum of 1.5 miles of setback between turbines and households, but Shelburne does not have any example of this.
Parry noted that a group from Nantucket visited the turbine site at Berkshire East to investigate the feasibility of erecting a turbine on the island and decided against doing so.
In addition to sound and flicker, petitioners here were also concerned about property values. Hartman said that many homes near wind turbines become abandoned and cannot be sold because people cannot live there due to wind turbine effects.
Various Shelburne residents offered comments, including Larry Gould, who questioned petitioners about what percentage they believed property values would be decreased. He was only told there was no concrete number, and Parry quoted John McCann, an expert on the subject the petitioners hosted here to present his studies, that a 25-40 percent loss is typical over a two-three-year period.
Gould said he believes petitioners singled out Mt. Massaemet from the rest of Shelburne in petition articles, and wondered why none had toured the site as, he said, two town boards did last fall. Gould said the principal landowners’ families have been in Shelburne for a combined total of300 years.
Joyce Vandekieft said that due to their avian impacts, wind turbines would not be something Ellsworth “Dutchy” Barnard, who donated family land to the Audubon Society for the High Ledges animal preserve, would approve of. Jan Voorhis was concerned about stray voltage that could kill grazing cows and sound disrupting animal reproduction cycles. Judith Truesdell said that senior citizens and children feel more health effects from large turbines than do most adults, that Buckland-Shelburne Elementary (BSE) School is located within a mile of the proposed wind facility, that Buckland and its children have no say about the turbines and that 20-30 percent of residents in that neighboring town would also be affected.
Not all comments were against wind. Whitty Sanford wanted people to consider what farmers provide and said, “We should provide compensation to keep their farms preserved and maintain their rural quality. What if we determine wind turbines are a good thing?”
Robert Jaros estimated wind turbines are good as long as they are sited properly. John Walsh, who also works for Western Massachusetts Electric Company, said that if commercial wind were viable in Shelburne, “we would have been inundated” with wind proposals 10 years ago. He also talked about the two 1.62-megawatt Vestas turbines in Gardner, MA.
“They have produced 103 percent of their expected production and don’t make a sound 3/10 of a mile from the base,” said Walsh. “Everyone in the town enjoys them and have caused no ill effects. By going with the petition, we are being shortsighted about the possible benefits.”
After public comment, the hearing was closed.
Earlier in the week, petitioners rallied in the village to explain their perspective.
Petitioner David Patrick said in a subsequent press release that a study group of citizens has “spent more than a thousand research hours investigating industrial wind turbines,” and noted that during the last several months, the group has invited health experts, real estate professionals, acousticians, experts on wind and solar power and citizens who live near industrial wind turbines in Massachusetts to appear at Memorial Hall in Shelburne to discuss their findings on industrial wind installations.
“After exhaustive research, our group has concluded that large wind turbines – whether 250 or 500 feet tall – do not belong anywhere near people and homes,” Patrick said. “These turbines negatively impact health, property values, the rural nature of communities like Shelburne, wildlife and ecosystems. We strongly support responsible alternative energy sources, but they must be appropriately sited. But industrial wind turbines should not be built in close proximity to Shelburne and other hilltown homes, schools and businesses.”
As for the ban itself, as opposed to or in addition to a moratorium, the group makes the case that the ban is best for the town as well as for neighboring Buckland.
“We know that the Shelburne Planning Board would like a year long moratorium, but I think that the residents of both towns, Buckland and Shelburne, have had enough time and enough information to know how we feel,” said Buckland village resident Lamia Holland. “We don’t want our lives and our properties in limbo any longer. Waiting for another year to know about big wind installations is truly a hardship for many of us on both sides of the river. We are asking the voters of Shelburne to vote in favor of this petition.”
Marchese read the language of the proposed wind moratorium article at the April 9 selectmen’s meeting. He was there to convince selectmen to place that article before the petition articles on the annual town meeting warrant and to move the order forward on the warrant for all four articles so they could be heard early during the May 1 annual meeting. Passage of the petitioned bylaw changes would require a 2/3 vote.
Selectmen Chairman John Payne suggested asking whether Town Moderator Jim Stacy would allow all four articles be read together and have the public speak on all four before voting. Because the petition bylaw was submitted before the moratorium bylaw, the petition articles will come before the moratorium article.
“We’re at a critical point,” said Marchese. “We saw the town on a road that could be divided, that could change how neighbors feel about each other, different from how it has been for years.”
The next planning board meeting, when the board will decide whether to recommend the wind petition at the May 1 annual town meeting, had been scheduled for Wednesday, April 18 but was cancelled. A meeting has now been set for Wednesday, April 25 at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall. Because the public hearing has now been closed, there will be no public comment on the issue at any future board meeting. The moratorium public hearing is scheduled for Friday, April 27 at 7 p.m. in the Buckland-Shelburne Elementary School cafeteria.