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Shelburne board mulls wind bylaw

SHELBURNE – If the Planning Board is to write a new bylaw for small, electricity-generating wind turbines, a Tighe & Bond consultant urged it to consider where wind turbines are applicable, “how far away impacts will be felt,” and to develop “defensible standards” for wind-turbine siting that are clear, easy to comply with and easy to enforce.

Briony Angus, a Westfield-based project manager and certified planner with the engineering firm, also gave the board a detailed comparison of wind-turbine bylaws developed in Western Massachusetts. They included requirements for both commercial and small-scale electricity-generating windmills.

Angus is working with the board through December, through a $5,000 grant from the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, to help the board create a draft bylaw for siting small turbines for on-premises use for farms, homes and small businesses.

At its next meeting on Nov. 14, the Planning Board will appoint members to a new Windpower Advisory Committee, which is to help the board research wind power issues. On Wednesday night, the board reviewed letters of interest from 10 residents and a Greenfield man seeking appointment.

After a plan for a commercial scale wind farm for Mount Massaemet sparked controversy last year, town meeting voters unanimously backed a one-year moratorium on any type of electricity-generating wind turbines. And after learning at the town meeting that the withdrawn windfarm proposal had been resubmitted under a “grandfather” bylaw clause, voters backed a ban on commercial-scale wind turbines by a 77 percent majority.

For now, the Planning Board is focused on producing a bylaw for on-premise wind facilities for next year’s annual town meeting.

However, Planning Board Chairman Matt Marchese told the audience of about 30 people, that the board has the right to study issues for siting large turbines.

“To say that large-scale wind shouldn’t be looked at, because 77 percent voted to ban (large-scale) wind is misleading,” said Marchese. “There were many contributing factors, and overriding that was the town’s vote in totality (for the moratorium) – because they wanted to study wind.”

Marchese pointed out that any bylaw on large-scale wind would have to be supported by a two-thirds majority of town meeting voters. “We have the right to study it,” he said. “Whether we choose to act on it is within our purview, too.”

The bylaws used in Angus’s comparison were developed by the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the state Department of Energy Resources, and the towns and cities of Lee, Winchendon, Ashburnam and Worcester.

What they had in common is that all require many more reviews and analysis for large-scale turbines and fairly few requirements for small scale, on-premises turbines.

Angus said there is no standard, uniform definition for what a “small-scale” turbine is, and that it may be up to the town to set its own definition. For instance, the state DOER defines “small” wind turbines as those that produce less than 60 kilowatts of power, while Worcester defines them as having a rotor size of 20 feet in diameter or less.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission defines “large scale” turbines as those greater than 140 feet tall, while the town of Lee defines “large” as being greater than 200 feet tall.

Existing zoning bylaws for “large-scale” wind turbine facilities often require balloon tests, sight-line renderings, flicker analysis, acoustic analysis, bird and bat studies, habitat impact, determination of any electromagnetic interference and a Federal Aviation Administration determination of “no hazard,” Angus said. These studies are not required for most small scale turbines. Instead, siting and setback requirements are often used to mitigate noise concerns, “ice throw” and visual impacts.

When the public was given time to comment, resident Michael Perry said he thought the presentation should have had more information about possible health impacts.

Planner Beth Simmons pointed out that the Mount Wachusett Community College wind turbines are about 300 feet tall. “Is that considered an on-premise use?” She asked.

“They only generate about 3 percent more than what is needed for the college.”

“When we’re talking about premise-use, are we talking about a height requirement or capacity?” asked Marchese.

Angus said it’s up to the board to define on-premise use.