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Town Meeting debate on turbine bylaw could be complicated  

Credit:  By MICHAEL C. BAILEY | Falmouth Enterprise | Nov. 13, 2012 ~~

A number of 11th-hour twists and turns stands to complicate an already thorny article on the warrant for tonight’s Annual November Town Meeting.

Falmouth Planning Board has scheduled for 6:30 this evening a pre-Town Meeting meeting to discuss any last-minute action on Article 3, which outlines a bylaw for the siting and review of wind turbines in town. The board could discuss a series of very recent developments within other town committees that could affect how it presents the article to voters.

The article, which has been under development by the planning board since March, would establish the board as the permitting authority for wind turbine projects between 300 watts and 250 kilowatts; turbines with a generation capacity below 300 watts would not need to be reviewed, and those above 250 kW would not be allowed in town.

The planning board would grant special permits for wind turbines, while the Falmouth Zoning Board of Appeals would handle any requested special permit modifications for relatively minor changes to an established turbine. The bylaw would also establish where turbines may be erected in town, noise and safety setbacks, and would explicitly define turbines as accessory use structures—meaning they may be built specifically to provide power to a principal use structure rather than as a freestanding structure for the purpose of generating power for profit.

man, noted there was “a lack of trust out there” when it came to the town turbines, “and if you’re going to give the municipality an exemption, you’re going to run into big issues about passing anything.”

To meet this standard, the project developer must measure the principal use structure’s power consumption over a two-year period, and at least 51 percent of the power generated by the turbine must go directly toward the principal use structure.

The draft that will be presented tonight was finalized last month, but the Falmouth Board of Selectmen, at a joint meeting last month with the planning board, requested one final amendment: language that would allow the town to move its two turbines
on Blacksmith Shop Road, West Falmouth.

Kevin E. Murphy, chairman of the selectmen, informed the planning board that turbine relocation was under consideration by the Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process, a working group of town officials and residents attempting to address ongoing issues with the town turbines, and he said an amendment to the bylaw was necessary to keep the
relocation option on the table.

As currently worded, the by-law would preclude relocation as both turbines exceed the 250kW threshold and there are no provisions grandfathering existing turbines.

Mr. Murphy said unless the planning board amended the bylaw to support the relocation
option, the selectmen would not formally support the article at Town Meeting. At its November 6 meeting the planning board voted against any such amendment. Members
argued that the working group had not yet settled on a course of action, and so it was premature to amend the article. Members also noted that the amendment was unnecessary because the article, if approved tonight, could be amended again at the 2013 April Annual Town Meeting to accommodate relocation.

The board specifically opposed any amendment that would grant municipal turbine projects an exemption from the bylaw. Ralph E. Herbst, planning board chairman, noted there was “a lack of trust out there” when it came to the town turbines, “and if you’re going to give the municipality an exemption, you’re going to run into big issues about passing anything.”

However, Richard K. Latimer of the planning board, also a Town Meeting member for Precinct One, announced last week via a letter to the Enterprise that he planned to act in opposition to the planning board’s 4-to-2 vote—which Mr. Latimer missed as he was not in attendance—and present at Town Meeting an amendment that would exempt
all town turbines from the by-law.

Mr. Latimer indicated that he intends the exemption to be tem- porary, to address concerns that a long-term exemption would allow the town to rush through additional turbine projects under the current bylaw, which does not limit turbine size. “This amendment will resolve the selectmen’s serious concerns about negotiating a settlement on the existing turbines,” he wrote, “while leaving the door open for
further amendment after that matter is settled to include the town within the bylaw.”

Yet that amendment may prove unnecessary in the wake of last week’s working group meeting, at which members decided they would not seek relocation of the turbines, deeming it too costly and too long of a project; the estimated cost of moving the turbines is $4.5 million and could take up to three years. This assumes the Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) approves relocation; only one viable site for the turbines, a parcel that is not within a half-mile of any residential properties, is, however, within 2,000 feet of residences on the Massachusetts Military Reservation, and within existing MMR flight paths. This decision came two days after the selectmen voted to stand by their opposition of the bylaw due to the lack of a municipal exemption and formally oppose the article’s passage. The selectmen have not met since to discuss this new development, but the board also scheduled a 6:30 PM pre-Town Meeting meeting to discuss its planned motions and recommendations to voters.

Source:  By MICHAEL C. BAILEY | Falmouth Enterprise | Nov. 13, 2012

This article is the work of the source indicated. Any opinions expressed in it are not necessarily those of National Wind Watch.

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