Light turnout, brief comments, and a complete lack of tension among proponents and opponents marked the Falmouth Planning Board’s hearing on a proposed wind turbine bylaw. This was the first public hearing on what board Chairman Ralph E. Herbst described as the first portion of the bylaw, which establishes certain key definitions upon which the rest of the bylaw, which will deal with performance standards and setbacks, will be built.
Ten people attended the hearing, which ran about a half-hour. Among the main points in the proposed bylaw:
• Turbines would be allowed as “accessory use” structures only, meaning that their primary purpose is to provide power to a home or business on the same lot;
• At least 51 percent of the power generated, based on the principal structure’s average annual power needs, must be used by the principal use structure;
• New principal use structures, defined as less than two years old, would be ineligible for a turbine permit since the bylaw would require at least two years’ worth of power consumption records on which the planning board would base the project’s generation capacity cap;
• Turbines of less than 3 watts of generation capacity would not need a permit. Anything 3 watts to 200 kilowatts (kW) would need a special permit issued by the planning board. Turbines in excess of 200 kW would not be allowed in town;
• Small turbines, defined as having a generation capacity of 3 watts to 60 kW, would be allowable only in Single Residence A, Single Residence AA, Agricultural A, Agricultural AA, Business 2, Public Use, and all Light Industrial districts;
• Large turbines, rated between 60 and 200 kW, would be allowed only in Public Use and all Light
Existing turbines would be grandfathered under the bylaw and would be henceforth considered “pre-existing non-conforming” structures. Any requests for modifying those structures would likely have to go before the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals for a permit modification or, if the proposed modifications are significant enough, before the planning board for a new review.
John J. Ford of Blacksmith Shop Road, the first of the night’s eight speakers, praised the planning board’s efforts, stating board members “haven’t left too many stones unturned, but I found a few pebbles that you were remiss in.” Mr. Ford pointed out that the bylaw seems to deal only with privately owned turbines, due to the lack of any language specific to municipal turbines, such as the two town-owned turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road, and asked for that issue to be addressed. He also thought the 200 kW cap might be too high, based on the fact that “there are 100 kW units that are disturbing people.”
Mary Zawoysky of Ransom Road corroborated that remark, noting that she lives near the 100 kW turbine on the Woods Hole Research Center property on Woods Hole Road and has experienced negative health impacts that she blames on the turbine. Her suggestion pertained to the “public outreach area” defined in the bylaw, which would establish how many potential abutters would be officially notified of a turbine project in their area. The draft calls for notifications to go out to all abutters within a radius equal to four times the height of the proposed turbine, and Ms. Zawoysky said that range was inadequate, noting that she lives approximately 900 feet from the Woods Hole Research Center turbine.
“I would not be included in this public outreach area,” had the bylaw been in place when that turbine was erected, she said, and she urged the board to expand the radius.
Two speakers questioned the 51 percent on-site minimum usage requirement. Stephen B. Leighton of Oyster Pond Road thought such a limit could effectively block a turbine owner from one day upgrading to a more efficient turbine that meets all other standards, while Ronald D. Zweig of Fay Road, Falmouth’s representative to the Cape Light Compact, said the threshold might discourage turbine owners from pursuing energy-efficiency measures for their home or business to avoid falling below the 51 percent mark.
The section of the bylaw subject to Tuesday’s hearing did not contain any language pertaining to future changes in the principal use’s energy needs, but at past meetings the board has considered adding a requirement for a periodic review of power generation and consumption for any turbines it permits.
The 51 percent threshold was established to allow turbine owners to realize some profit from their investment, since surplus power may be sold back to the New England power grid, but would effectively preclude any- one from developing a turbine solely as a for-profit venture.
Mr. Zweig pointed out an inconsistency with that philosophy, noting that there are no similar bylaws limiting how much surplus power may be generated by a homeowner who establishes solar panels or a photovoltaic (PV) array on his property. “If someone generated 60 percent that went to the grid, you couldn’t put up that much PV, and we would kind of be curtailing renewable energy development in town,” he said.
Levi Adams of Nickerson Street, who described himself as “pro-wind,” said the bylaw’s general wording struck him as “really negative” and created a “hostile environment” for anyone interested in erecting a wind turbine. He also worried that the 200 kW cap would limit Falmouth’s ability to grow a renewable energy business sector.
Board member Douglas C. Brown explained that the 200 kW cap was set to allow reasonable flexibility for turbine development. James Fox added that the goal of the bylaw was not to dissuade turbine development but to protect property owners.
The planning board will continue to accept written comments on the draft turbine, which is scheduled for discussion at its next meeting on Tuesday, June 26. Those comments may be mailed to the Falmouth Planning Department, 59 Town Hall Square, Falmouth, MA 02540.
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