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Planning Board proactive about wind turbines

ASHFIELD – Like several other West County town planners, the town Planning Board is continuing to craft bylaws to address issues relating to wind turbines, should one or more be proposed.

“We had a couple of projects proposed a couple of years ago, but there hasn’t been any activity in a while,” said Lauren Preston-Wells, Planning Board member, last week.

In 2010, preliminary presentations were made to residents to build 3-10 wind turbines on Ridge Hill, a site potentially within a mile or less of the community’s Main Street. Another site considered at the time by another developer was the property of Tom Leue about one mile south of the new Sanderson Academy on Route 112.

Preston-Wells works now with the Wind and Noise Technology Advisory Group. The group is looking to address issues of noise relating to any (commercial or residential) wind turbines in town. At issue are proposed noise standards of the Department of Environmental Protection and the group’s goal of an even lesser impact. The board’s Sept. 4 minutes state, “The Planning Board may want to be proactive about setting standards for the town so that we aren’t caught off guard with standards that don’t work in our area.”

Chair Michael Fitzpatrick said the board will be working on bylaws to specifically address residential placement of wind turbines.

“We never know what the state may decide to do, so it’s better if we decide ahead of time what we would allow,” said Fitzpatrick.

At the meeting, board members discussed bylaws pertaining to amount of energy that could be generated, size, if turbines would be allowed in town, and other issues. Fitzpatrick said that in terms of energy produced, board members would look to have a limit of 60 kilowatts. The 60-kilowatt limit would allow a town electrician to perform inspections. While the limit would be 60 kilowatts, Fitzpatrick said in general most homes only need to generate 5-10 kilowatts, the amount, he said, often produced when people use solar panels on their homes.

Wind turbines would have to meet the town’s set back standards. Fitzpatrick said size would relate to “how big it could be before it starts bugging people.”

Anecdotally, board members related low confidence that a residential wind turbine would be cost-effective, but effectiveness would relate directly to where the turbine was placed (few trees, on the top of a hill, not close to other residences, etc.).

“Generally, we’re not going to allow wind turbines in the center of town or in the historic district,” Fitzpatrick said.

Board members did not feel a wind turbine would be effective in an in-town location due to low probability there would be enough wind.

“You have to have the perfect world where the wind blows all the time (to have consistent power from a wind turbine).”

Board members discussed that farmers would be most likely residents to contemplate their own wind turbine to supply energy to machinery, such as to water pumps.