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Heath board argues against turbines

HEATH – Armed with a large binder filled with a year’s worth of research, this hilltown’s Planning Board and the Renewable Energy Advisory Committee made their case for banning the development of commercial-scale windmills.

Roughly 30 residents attended the public hearing, and most supported the conclusion: that big turbines don’t belong in tiny Heath.

If voters approve a proposed ban at a Feb. 26 special town meeting, “industrial-scale” wind turbine installation will be “disallowed” for “the purpose of protecting the public health, safety and welfare of the town, while preserving its rural character, environment, historic and scenic resources,” the bylaw says.

Planning Board Chairman Calvin Carr said the board tried to “balance the needs of commercial wind with those of the citizens and property owners of Heath,” but was unable to come up with a way to make commercial wind generation feasible while keeping them far enough away from homes.

Because of the hilly terrain and the low decibel-range of ambient sound in this rural community, the board said turbines should be sited at least two miles away from residences, to reduce the impact of noise, flicker and possible property devaluation.

The REAC report included wind maps from the National Renewable Energy Lab, showing that the strongest wind energy potential for land-based wind turbines is in the Midwest, from Texas to the Dakotas. The report said wind potential in Massachusetts is far less and ranks 35th among the states.

The REAC committee says it studied over 20 property-value impact studies, and all but two reported “substantial reduction in property values as a function of distance to the turbine site.” The general consensus was that property values dropped by at least 25 percent for homes within two miles of each commercial turbine.

The committee said a wind farm on top of Bray Road, which is one of Heath’s highest elevations and has access to two transmission lines, would create an “impact area” of 12.5 miles, affecting property values for roughly half the homes. They said the average tax compensation seems to be between $13,000 to $14,000 per turbine annually. “But these are proposed agreements,” says the report. “There is no history in the state as yet of agreements that have been implemented. If the town were to approve a 16-turbine installation, the expected revenue input would just about offset the loss in tax revenue resulting from the property devaluation.”

Finance Committee Chairman Donald Freeman said the finance board unanimously recommends the ban, because of the potential devaluation of property closest to the turbines. He said the loss of property values could result in rising tax rates, which would affect those living “outside the impact zone” as well.

One resident, Daniel Harris, questioned the objectivity of the research and report.

“I would urge everyone to look inward. This, to me, smacks of NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) – ‘Put it over there.’ ”

Carr said the group has “looked inward” for a year, meeting for two hours a week to review research.

“We’re not saying, ‘Put it somewhere else.’ We’re saying, because the wind isn’t steady, because of the health effects, the lack of a CO2 offset, it doesn’t work here,” Carr said.

He said the Planning Board went through a similar process in developing a zoning bylaw for commercial electricity generation with solar photovoltaic systems, which are permissible in town. “We are encouraging commercial solar, because it doesn’t have adverse effects on residents and property,” he said.

Also, the town has a bylaw allowing wind turbines of up to 100 feet tall to generate electricity for homes and farms.