Spruce Mountain Wind representatives last week talked with Woodstock officials about possibly altering the town’s new wind ordinance to someday allow them to replace their existing turbines with ones that would be quieter overall.
The ordinance, approved narrowly at the March town meeting, restricts future wind projects by imposing a lower maximum decibel level for sound generated by the turbines and greater setback from property lines, along with other requirements.
However, the rules would also apply to the existing Spruce project in cases of expansion or major changes.
Chief Operating Officer Todd Presson of Patriot Renewables, the company that built the Spruce Mountain towers, told selectmen he is concerned about replacing turbines at the end of their useful life, which is typically about 20 years.
He said new technology is being developed that could result in a quieter project, but Patriot might not be able to use it because of the ordinance.
The trend in technology, he said, is toward taller turbines and more production per turbine, but fewer turbines per site. There would also be more spacing between them, he said, changing the configuration. The alterations would trigger the Woodstock ordinance to apply to Patriot.
“We wouldn’t want to be in a situation where the ordinance caused us to use older technology because we couldn’t consider a new turbine that, for example, would have twice the unit output per turbine – so we could use half the number of turbines and the sound footprint of the project would be significantly lower – but the total megawatt would be the same,” said Presson.
He said using older technology to comply with the ordinance “would result in a less desirable outcome for the town and for us.”
He added, “We don’t have any specific recommendations necessarily. There’s a few sections in the new ordinance that could probably be changed slightly that would allow for that consideration for Spruce.”
Planning Board Chairman Jenn Chase and Vice-Chairman Tom Hartford suggested that new wording that would grandfather Patriot on the requirements could be added to the ordinance. The change could then be proposed at next year’s annual town meeting.
Selectman Ron Deegan asked Presson to put his company’s concerns in writing.
Town Manager Vern Maxfield said after the meeting that should new language be proposed, the Planning Board would likely craft it. He said the concerns about the ordinance preventing Patriot from upgrading to a quieter project surfaced publicly at a hearing on the project prior to the March town meeting.
At the March meeting, Woodstock Wind Ordinance Chairman Bob Elliott had told voters Patriot would be restricted from using newer, more powerful turbines not by the ordinance, but by its own current state permit. He said that because the current project is at its allowed limit of 20 megawatts of power generation, it could not go over that.
He also said the permit expires in 20 years, and Patriot would have to return for new approvals at that time anyway.