SHARON – Prompted by a wind farm proposal in the neighboring towns of Temple and New Ipswich, the Sharon Planning Board has developed a regulation that would set guidelines for any proposed large-scale wind turbines.
Planning Board Chair Mitch Call said at a public hearing on Tuesday that the regulation would need approval at Town Meeting in March.
“Much of what we’ve put together matches what New Ipswich and Temple have done,” Call said at the lightly attended hearing.
A company called Timbertop Wind has proposed that five wind turbines be constructed on Kidder Mountain. Three of the turbines would be located in Temple and two in New Ipswich. The site is relatively close to the southeast corner of Sharon, Call said. In December, Timbertop Wind, which is a subsidiary of an Austin, Texas- based company, asked the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to take over the review of the large-scale wind energy project. That request was opposed in January by the Select Boards in New Ipswich and Temple, who said oversight of the project should remain at the local level.
Both New Ipswich and Temple have ordinances regulating wind-power development, but such projects often fall under the purview of the Site Evaluation Committee. Last week, the Site Evaluation Committee ruled against a 10-turbine wind project proposed for Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain in Antrim, citing the negative visual impact the site would have on the Willard Pond Wildlife Sanctuary.
While Chet Bowles, Sharon’s assistant to the Select Board, said it was unclear whether a town regulation or ordinance would take precedence over the Site Evaluation Committee, board members agreed that having a regulation in place would provide protection to the residents and the town’s environment.
The proposed regulation for Sharon would limit the total height of wind turbines to 450 feet. Meteorological towers, which are built to evaluate the potential for a wind-energy site, would not be allowed to exceed 200 feet in height.
All turbines would need to be set back from property boundaries by a distance of at least one and a half times the total height of the turbine.
Noise levels of a project would not be allowed to exceed 33 dBA (A-weighted decibels). According to the draft of the regulation, the existing background noise levels in Sharon are less than 30 dBA and levels of more than 33 dBA are when widespread complaints have occurred at other wind energy sites.
New Ipswich’s and Temple’s ordinances, which do not set specific height or setback measurements, allow up to 33 decibels of noise anywhere on the property of neighbors to a wind-energy site. Adam Cohen, vice-president of Timbertop Wind, spoke against the noise restrictions when they were adopted last year, telling the boards they were too restrictive and wouldn’t allow any significant wind facility to be built.
Sharon’s 18-page proposed regulation also calls for an applicant for a large-scale energy project to reimburse the town for impacts on infrastructure, to develop a fire safety plan that’s acceptable to the town’s fire chief or the state’s fire marshal, to minimize adverse impact on the environment and not cause adverse visual impact.
Approvals of any project would be for a 30-year period, after which the site would need to be decommissioned and the property restored to its original state. Resident Ken Callahan asked if that meant a landowner wouldn’t be able to keep a road that had been built on a site in order to use the land for another purpose. Call said that wouldn’t be allowed under the wording of the regulation.
Call said the regulation would give the Planning Board oversight of a wind energy project, with the Select Board being in charge of enforcement of its provisions.
The board briefly discussed the pros and cons of having a developer pay taxes based on the assessed value of the project or making a payment in lieu of taxes, known as a PILOT. Bowles said any project would lead to a dramatic increase in overall assessed value of property in the town, which would increase the amount Sharon pays to the ConVal School District. Bowles said he would never recommend that the town set up a PILOT arrangement with a developer, as was proposed in Antrim for the Tuttle Hill project.
At the close of the hearing, Planning Board members unanimously voted to approve the regulation, subject to further approval at Town Meeting.
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