HEATH – A year after placing a moratorium on large-scale windmills, residents of this small town in the Berkshire mountains foothills are being asked to ban commercial-scale wind turbines through a zoning bylaw change at a special town meeting later this month.
The proposed bylaw doesn’t allow installation of wind turbines taller than 100 feet, nor will it allow turbines that exist mainly to generate electricity to a utility grid. Also prohibited would be wind turbines “not primarily for use by residential or nonresidential structures (if any) on the lot of the installation.”
Small-scale wind turbines, which already exist in Heath, would be exempt. They are already allowed, by special permit in the town’s agricultural/residential and recreation/residential zoning districts.
The bylaw is only one page long, but the final report of the town Renewable Energy Advisory Committee’s “Siting of Industrial-Scale Wind Turbines in Heath” is about 17 pages long. The group (REAC) is a subcommittee that made its findings for the Planning Board and recommended that a ban on industrial wind be incorporated into the town bylaw.
The report essentially says that the cost benefits, energy-generating capacity and environmental benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions are minimal, while the potential impact on the town is high.
“Any claim that industrial wind could do for Heath what Yankee Atomic did for Rowe is built on illusion,” says the report, referring to the former nuclear power plant in Rowe that provided big tax revenues for that small town during its years of operation.
“The Yankee Atomic facility had a (capacity) of 181 megawatts and a capacity factor of 74 percent over its 36-year lifecycle – the actual output averaged 136 megawatts.” The report says if Heath had an industrial wind complex the size of the 19-turbine Hoosac facility in Monroe and Florida, each would operate at about 30 percent of their capacity. “In order to match the output of Yankee Atomic in Heath using wind, the town would need over 300 wind turbines, each the size of a 40-story skyscraper (400 feet tall).”
The report talks about noise complaints in several communities that host windmills, followed by reports of alleged health problems: sleep disruption, tinnitus, rapid heart beat, migraine, vertigo, motion sickness and similar symptoms.
The committee also reviewed at least 20 property value-impact studies. “The general consensus was a 25 percent to 40 percent reduction of property values within a two-mile radius of the wind turbine site,” says their report. They said a decrease in property values could represent a loss of town tax revenue.
The committee said turbines located a mile or more from homes had less impact on property values and fewer noise complaints, but added: “Our population is too uniformly distributed through the town and our parcels of land too small to achieve the setbacks needed to protect our citizens from the health affects of industrial-scale wind turbines.”
Other impacts mentioned included the need to widen the town’s winding roads to accommodate the huge trucks needed to transport wind turbine components.
Last February, 81 voters unanimously approved a moratorium on large-scale wind turbines, to give the Planning Board more time to study the issue. The moratorium was extended to July 2013 by annual town voters last May.
Several hilltowns put large-scale wind turbine moratoriums into place last year, after Shelburne recei ved a special permit request to site an eight-turbine windfarm near the Mount Massaemet ridge line. Heath, Colrain, Buckland and Shelburne all have moratoriums on large-scale wind facilities while they work on bylaws. Also, Ashfield created a wind siting bylaw committee after a 2011 proposal to build six to eight 455-foot-tall turbines on Ridge Hill. The proponents of the Ridge Hill project never applied for a special permit, but their plan drew much opposition in that town.
A public hearing on the proposed zoning bylaw change will be held on Feb. 12 at 7 p.m. in Community Hall. The special town meeting vote takes place Feb. 26, also in Community Hall at 7 p.m.
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