Falmouth Planning Board is under the gun to draft a wind turbine bylaw more likely to pass muster at the 2013 Spring Annual Town Meeting. The board’s previous attempt at a turbine siting bylaw failed at November Annual Town Meeting amid arguments by voters that the process felt rushed, and that the board should take time to craft a stronger bylaw.
“I think Town Meeting forgot that we have had two years of moratorium and we’ve been working on this for two years,” Chairman Ralph E. Herbst said, referring to the two one year moratoriums on turbine development approved at the 2010 and 2011 Spring Annual Town Meetings, “and that’s not hurrying up or throwing something at them last-minute.” The board now has only four meetings—a little more than a month—to accomplish that task since articles for the April Town Meeting must be ready by early
“We’re running into a big deadline here,” Patricia H. Kerfoot said. “We’re running out of time.” The turbine moratorium ends on May 1, 2013, and cannot be renewed for a third year. Without a new bylaw in place, the old by-law goes back into effect, “which is what got us into trouble to begin with,” she said, referring to problems surrounding the town-owned turbines on Blacksmith Shop Road.
For that reason, the planning board agreed to immediately begin fine-tuning the draft bylaw at its next meeting tonight. After that, the board will have two December meetings and one January meeting in which to complete its work—and one of those meetings will involve a public hearing on the revised warrant article.
The version of the bylaw rejected on the first night was pitched as a replacement for the existing bylaw, the language for which was crafted more than 30 years ago and refers to turbines as “windmills.” The current bylaw sets no restrictions on turbine height or placement, and has no standards for defining such structures as accessory uses, i.e., as attachments to a primary use structure such as a home or business. The bylaw proposed in Article 3 would have defined turbines as an accessory use by requiring at least 51 percent of the power it generated to be used by the principal use structure. That standard was the subject of considerable debate among the planning board members, and became a point of contention among Town Meeting members. The 51 percent threshold was based on language in a Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources model bylaw, language that Town Meeting members noted has since been removed. They also argued that there are no similar restrictions on photovoltaic systems.
Town planner Brian A. Currie recommended that the board focus its first meeting on the accessory use definition and explore alternative standards that might be more acceptable to the public. Another factor that played against the bylaw, according to planning board members, was that the board of selectmen op- posed the article. The selectmen’s opposition stemmed from the ongoing consensus-building process involving that Falmouth Wind Turbine Options Process working group comprising town officials and residents, who are attempting to address ongoing issues with the town turbines. The group was considering, among several options, the possibility of moving the two turbines to another site in Falmouth, and the bylaw as worded would have effectively taken that option off the table; the bylaw did not allow for turbines with a generation capacity greater than 250 kilowatts, and the town’s turbines each have a 1.65-megawatt capacity.
Mr. Herbst first criticized the selectmen for voicing their opposition to the article so late in the process—the selectmen first indicated they would not back the proposal at an October 2 joint meeting with the planning board—and then wondered why the selectmen stood by their position even after the working group announced that turbine relocation had been removed from the list of possible actions.
James E. Fox believed the unresolved issues with the town turbines unduly influenced the debate at Town Meeting. “That’s a point I heard brought up by just about every speaker,” he said. “Either we’ve got to get the selectmen to suggest an amendment they can live with right now, or we wait until they solve their issue and then we move forward.”
In talking with people after Town Meeting, Ms. Kerfoot said her sense was that people were “just plain scared, because they don’t know what the town’s responsibility is going to have to be” toward resolving issues with the town turbines, “and they want just everything either to go away or be settled before they ever make a decision.”
Robert J. Leary remarked that some Town Meeting voters also made arguments against the article “that, frankly, I didn’t think made a lot of sense.” He specifically noted that some voters opposed the article because its standards were based on current wind turbine technology and did not take into account future advances that would increase power output while reducing turbine size and noise generation. “When you’re trying to put something in a bylaw for things that don’t exist yet, like quiet 300-kilowatt turbines, that’s like making regulations for flying cars,” he said. “They haven’t been invented, so how can we write that into a bylaw?”
Mr. Leary, Mr. Fox, and Douglas C. Brown all added that there appeared to be a strong pro-wind movement at Town Meeting and at individual precinct meetings, and that presence influenced the final vote. “There were definitely special interests there, people who want to build wind turbines, at every single meeting pleading their case very hard,” Mr. Fox said. “They made presentations instead of asking questions…they were well-prepared and they had an agenda.”
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