At special town meeting on Thursday, Sept. 25, voters agreed to amend existing zoning bylaws to accommodate wind turbines, 43-6. Passage required a two-thirds majority vote.
Buckland, among many West County towns, has had no zoning guidelines for wind or solar facilities. As many said at the meeting, the new bylaw establishes guidelines to help protect the town if and when a contractor applies for a Special Permit to install a wind turbine.
According to the new bylaw, any applications for small wind energy facilities would require a Special Permit and they would have a maximum height of 120 feet and a maximum output (i.e. “Rated Nameplate Capacity”) of 250 kW. The bylaw allows the town to consider issuing Special Permits for four zoning districts: Rural Residential, Commercial, Industrial, and Historic Industrial. Large wind energy facilities that either exceed 120 feet or 250 kW are prohibited by this bylaw.
Planning Board Chair John Gould summarized the work that has been done by the Planning Committee and the Alternative Energy Advisory Committee over the past few years to establish the bylaw’s parameters, which has included significant citizen input at various stages of the process.
“We had a responsibility to address what we understand to be evaluated impacts of wind turbine sites,” said Gould. “Height, noise level, setback, danger to wildlife, ice throw, and shadow flicker are some of the main things we addressed.”
Besides height and output limits, a key provision of the bylaw is the inclusion of a minimum setback of 360 feet from property lines and half-a-mile from off-site inhabited buildings. Other provisions established by the bylaw include environmental standards, visual impacts, and noise limits that must be maintained. There are also three studies to be performed: noise analysis; shadow and flicker analysis; and avian and bat species analysis.
Gould went on to point, however, “The alternative energy subject is a moving target and the Planning Board fully expects that this bylaw will need to be revisited to address advances in technology and other factors.”
Despite the strong majority the Small Wind Energy Facility Bylaw received, several residents expressed concern that birds will be adversely impacted by the introduction of wind turbines.
The idea of having a turbine in one’s backyard or making noise on a nearby hill also concerned some voters, although the Planning Committee addressed these by inputting the minimum setback requirements.
Janet Sinclair, who chaired the Alternate Energey Advisory Committee, said she is disappointed.
“During the vote on wind energy in Buckland, the question before the town seemed to include ‘do you want a developer with deep pockets to come into our town and do whatever they want? Because if we don’t pass these bylaws tonight that’s what can happen,’” she said after the vote. “A few private citizens paid for expert legal opinion that the Planning Board refused to obtain, although I requested it many times. According to our legal expert, our 50-foot height limit applies to wind turbines and nothing over that height can be permitted or built. And no pockets are deep enough to erase our current height limit. These legal facts leave the Planning Board’s threat unfounded.
“I am very disappointed that these legal questions were inexplicably not openly and fully discussed before the issue was brought to the town for a vote. Because of this, the simple question ‘do we want any wind development in our town?’ was never asked. I think that would be the place to start. Now we have bylaws that potentially allow wind in some of our state-designated wildlife corridors. Among other concerns about the bylaws adequately protecting the towns’ residents, I am saddened that the town didn’t see the need to better protect that land.”