BUCKLAND – The Buckland Planning Board held a public hearing on Tuesday, July 22 to hear from voters about the board’s proposed bylaw regulating the installation of small-scale wind turbines. No date to vote on the bylaw has yet been set. Planning Board members expect to meet again on Aug.5 at 6 p.m. and may make some revisions after having heard from residents Tuesday.
The proposed bylaw states that a person cannot erect a wind turbine higher 120 feet and/or rated to produce more than 250 kilowatts of power, which the Planning Board is deeming the upper limit for small-scale wind production.
The bylaw dictates the turbine should be set back at least 360 feet or three times its height from any buildings on the property in case it falls, and that the turbine should be at least 2,640 feet from any structures on neighboring to minimize auditory and visual disturbances to the neighbors.
Auditory disturbances include a five decibel rise in volume above ambient volume levels at the property line; a “pure tone condition,” which is where the blade and motor emit a noise during rotation with one frequency being louder than any others it makes, creating a discernable note; and excessive low-frequency noise being emitted from either the blade or the motor. Visual disturbances the bylaw tries to mitigate are beacon lights on the turbine unless explicitly required by the FAA, shadowing of inhabited buildings near the tower, and to preserve the character of the neighborhood. Setback restrictions do not apply to turbines mounted on existing structures, such as on a house roof.
The proposed bylaw requires a resident who would like to erect a wind turbine to go through numerous studies, including a balloon test to determine the visibility of the turbine, a noise evaluation to assess the noise levels that the turbine would produce, and a survey of the environment to ensure the proposed location would not encroach on wetlands or endangered species habitat. As a measure against abandonment of a wind turbine site, the bylaw mandates a hefty removal fee.
After the bylaw was reviewed, read, some present took issue with the setback laws, which they found too restrictive. The section where the bylaw says a wind turbine cannot be closer than 2,640 feet to a structure on another property does bar most town properties from hosting turbines. The only areas in Buckland that satisfy the bylaws as written are a mile west of Route 112 and one on the Hawley town line west of Charlemont Road.
“If they comply with noise and visual tests, why are the setbacks a half-mile?” Michael Novack asked. “Not many houses are a half-mile away from each other, and it seems to be a stopper for development of these turbines. It seems too restrictive and it doesn’t seem fair.”
Novack’s comment prompted Planning Board Chair John Gould to note that if abutting neighbors agree to a turbine on the property, then a variance can be granted. Novack also asked if the Planning Board could create gradation for setbacks in relation to the size of turbines, since a small turbine taking up the same footprint as a 120-foot-tall turbine seemed put of proportion.
Because turbines are meant for accessory power, a small turbine is the most suitable for private property, producing on average only 1-2 kilowatts to supply power to an average single-family home. The 250-kilowatt limit, however, could work if a whole neighborhood decides to connect all the houses to a tower.
Gould proposed different language in the final bylaw proposal to cover smaller turbines under different rules than the larger turbines, which would also not create the same visual or auditory disturbances because smaller turbines are less visually conspicuous and the faster rotation of smaller blades would reduce low-frequency noise.
“We have existing language that could set it apart,” said Gould. “The setback of three times its distance could work for any size, but we’d reserve the half-mile setback for the largest turbines.”
The bylaw’s requirement of a 125 percent cost of removal financial surety to cover the cost to remove a turbine in case of abandonment did not seem salient to Finance Committee member Ben Murray, who questioned if that percentage would hold up under inflation. He proposed the Planning Board review turbine sites every five years to assess current removal costs rather than request financial surety at the time of application.