FAIRHAVEN – The Planning Board’s public hearing on proposed changes to a wind turbine bylaw is bound to draw a large turnout Tuesday, Feb. 12.
“It’s a total rewrite,” said William Roth, the town’s planning director, of the changes to the bylaw.
Mr. Roth said one of the most significant changes is limiting output to 660 kilowatts. The two industrial wind turbines on town land are 1.5 megawatts each.
Another big change is to the setbacks. In the earlier bylaw, the setback was just one time the height of the turbine. Now it’s “four times the height to the tip of the blade,” Mr. Roth said.
The maximum height to the tip of the blade is 265 feet. The turbines on town land are close to 400 feet to the tip of the blade.
For large-scale turbines, the site must be at least 10 acres. The new bylaw makes reference to the shadow or flicker effect, which the earlier one didn’t.
It says the turbines “shall be sited in a manner that minimizes shadowing or flicker impacts. The applicant has the burden of proving that this effect does not have significant adverse impact on neighboring or adjacent uses.”
Mr. Roth said, “The current bylaw didn’t have that.”
As far as the noise level that would be allowed, the bylaw says turbines must comply with the Department of Environmental Protection’s limits for “broadband sound levels” of no more than 10 decibels above the existing ambient or background noise.
Wayne Hayward, chairman of the Planning Board, said the “crux” of the bylaw is “height and setbacks.”
Some have advocated for Fairhaven to adopt a six-decibel threshold as other communities have done in Massachusetts. Mr. Hayward said that would come under the Board of Health.
He said the Planning Board doesn’t have the technical expertise to do the kind of sound testing the DEP has been conducting for months for the town’s wind turbines.
Mr. Hayward said limiting the height and kilowatts and increasing the setbacks will go a long way to addressing the problems residents have now with the large turbines off Arsene Street.
He said the revisions limit the maximum size of a wind turbine to what can be found today at UMass Dartmouth, Mass Maritime and Hull 1. He said those “don’t seem to be getting” the complaints that the ones are here.
“The goal here is to still allow these as reliable green energy, but until they get the sound settled (as far as decibel limits the DEP requires), we’re going to try to limit them to something that doesn’t cause a problem.”
Mr. Hayward said Fairhaven is too small a town to have 400-foot turbines. He said while most people in town don’t have a problem with the ones off Arsene Street, “They don’t live near them.”
Mr. Hayward said it is likely with New Bedford possibly becoming a “major staging area” for offshore wind turbines that developers might be looking at waters off Fairhaven. He said the bylaw covers the town’s waters, not just land. He pointed out that developer Jay Cashman wanted to build turbines in Buzzards Bay near the islands and connect to a grid on Egypt Lane.
Mr. Hayward said he isn’t aware of anything pending like that but, “Developers like him are still out there.”
On the other hand, he said, with all the controversy in Fairhaven over the wind turbines, he doubts Fairhaven would be anyone’s “first choice at this point.”
Under the Planning Board bylaw, the health board would be responsible for responding to noise level complaints and could require the owner or operator, at their expense, to hire an independent acoustical engineer to do a sound study.
The Planning Board would be the granting authority for the special permit required for wind turbines. It could grant waivers of any regulation if abutters agreed to them. The waivers have some opponents concerned.
The bylaw has different classifications for smaller wind turbines, like those used to provide energy to a single building or house.
The complete draft of the proposed bylaw is available on the Planning Board page on the town’s website. The Planning Board also posted other documents online. One shows a graphic display of the different sizes of wind turbines. The other compares the old and new bylaws.
Mr. Hayward said documents will be handed out at the hearing, which begins at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall banquet room.
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