Falmouth Planning Board this week tackled its first round of amendments to its wind turbine bylaw, removing four provisions that led to its rejection at the November Annual Town Meeting. “I think you all did a great job on this tonight,” Chairman Ralph E. Herbst told his colleagues following a little more than an hour of work on the new draft. “We got a good start.”
Voters defeated the first version of the bylaw during the first night of Town Meeting, forcing the board to go back to the drawing board under a tight deadline; the board has only three more meetings to work on its revisions before it must submit the new article in time for the 2013 Spring Annual Town Meeting.
If a new bylaw is not approved in the spring, the current bylaw automatically goes back into effect on May 1, 2013, when the townwide moratorium on all turbine development lifts. That original bylaw, which was crafted more than 30 years ago, refers to turbines as “windmills” and sets no restrictions on turbine height or placement.
The bylaw also lacks standards for defining such structures as accessory uses, i.e., as attachments to a primary use structure such as a home or business, and it was the planning board’s first attempt at defining accessory use that contributed to the article’s defeat at Town Meeting earlier this month.
The first version required a turbine developer to use at least 51 percent of the power generated by a turbine to be used on-site, a threshold based on a Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources model bylaw. The 51 percent on-site usage stipulation was included to ensure that turbines could not be erected for for-profit purposes, but rather to provide power to a home or business. However, Town Meeting voters noted that no such condition existed for photovoltaic (PV) cell or solar systems and thought it unfair to attach such a condition to wind energy systems.
Board member Richard K. Latimer, who never favored the 51 percent threshold, recommended removing that language and simply defining turbines as “incidental to or supplemental to a primary use on the property that shall be something other than the generation of energy.” Mr. Latimer said that language, coupled with other protective language in the bylaw such as safety and noise setbacks, and size limits based on zoning districts, would adequately protect people from inappropriately
sited turbines while allowing developers to realize the maximum
The board agreed and struck the 51 percent language, along with a related provision requiring turbine developers to provide as part of their application two years’ worth of power consumption data, which in the first version would have been used to determine the maximum allowable turbine size for a particular project.
Board members also agreed to remove a review exemption for turbines smaller than 300 watts. The new draft requires special permits for all turbines up to 250 kilowatts, the maximum allowable size for any project in town. The exemption was removed in response to claims by Town Meeting voters that very small turbines could generate more noise than their larger counterparts.
As a result, turbines 300 watts or smaller are now classified as “small wind energy systems”; that classification applied in the first version only to turbines larger than 300 watts but smaller than 100 kilowatts.
Next the board lifted a requirement for developers to, as part of the application process, erect a meteorological tower and collect 12 months’ worth of wind speed data for a proposed turbine site. Although the board always had the ability to waive that requirement, turbine supporters argued the requirement was prohibitively expensive for residents and small businesses.
The new version retains the meteorological tower requirement, but also allows a developer to provide 12 months of equivalent data through another source, such as the data available through the US Department of Energy’s Wind Program and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Brian A. Currie, town planner, will present to the board Tuesday new draft language reflecting the recommended changes. The board will review the changes, then discuss possible changes to sound study requirements and the complaint process for aggrieved residents living near a turbine.
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