PERU – The Attorney General’s office has struck down a section of the town’s wind energy bylaw, which would have blocked any commercial wind facility from the hilly Berkshire town.
The section, approved by Town Meeting in June by a margin of one vote, is prejudiced against companies and therefore violates “the principal of uniformity” and Massachusetts law, according to Attorney General Martha Coakley.
“Instead of regulating the size of wind facilities in town, [the section] requires the facility not sell more than 50 percent of the generated wind,” Coakley wrote in her Jan. 2 determination on the matter, just before leaving office.
“The proposed new section does not regulate wind facilities based on size, but instead, regulates what the wind facility can do with the generated energy. In doing so, the section exceeds typical zoning consideration. A town’s zoning power may not be used to regulate ownership without regard to differences in its use.”
Coakley quoted earlier zoning law rulings: “A fundamental principle of zoning [is that] it deals basically with the use, without regard to the ownership, of the property involved or who may be the operator of the use.”
The aggrieved party, then, in Peru’s case, was Lightship Energy LLC, a developer who sought to erect five, 500-foot wind turbines between Haskell and Garnet hills of Curtin Road. According to the state and Lightship, the Peru location offers the best potential for land-based wind energy generation in the entire state.
Immediately following the June vote, Lightship filed an opposition with the AG’s Office.
William Golden of Lightship, told The Eagle the company felt vindicated by the AG’s decision, but they’d long since dumped ambitions of carrying through with development in Peru. The decision was not because of local opposition in the town, which was significant, as indicated by the bylaw vote, but rather due to shoddy market conditions.
“The primary reason we ended our interest was the commonwealth’s failure to support land-based wind projects in Massachusetts,” Golden said.
State interest in tapping into massive amounts of hydroelectric power generated across the border in Canada has led to policy choices committing Massachusetts to future purchases of land-based wind energy generated in Maine.
The reason for the policy? To access this energy, northward transmission lines would need to be built—lines along which Canadian hydro energy could flow just as easily, reducing state reliance on gas and coal generation plants, a long-term Massachusetts goal.
The cost of building these lines under the arrangement, Golden complained, will be strapped on ratepayers. The energy costs more to generate—18 cents per kilowatt hour versus a figure much lower than that—which the Peru turbines could have managed, he said.
According to Golden, the policy eliminated any market whatsoever for wind energy generated in Peru.
Peru Zoning Board Chairman Samuel Haupt, too, “agreed with the AG,” and said the board was “prepared to evaluate” any future proposal.
In Haupt’s view, some residents became agitated too soon before public meetings about the wind turbine proposal began.
“We never got to a public hearing stage [before the passage of the bylaw section], which I think was frustrating to all parties involved,” Haupt said.
Opponents of the project accused town leadership of lacking transparency on matters concerning Lightship’s proposal, and were vindicated on four complaints to the AG against the Peru Select Board’s conduct during the period.
The company considerably delayed the public process while it reworked or tweaked relevant documents, comprising its application to the Peru Zoning Board. residents—who feared potential negative health effects from living inside a half-mile of the structures—accused them of attempting a fix.
Peru stood to gain roughly $150,000 a year in taxes from the development while Lightship could have raked in millions per year in tax credits alone, and more on sale of power generated.
No love loss could be detected in Golden’s comments on the home-grown opposition.
“The AG’s decision was the only time that the project has had an opportunity to be viewed by an impartial entity, who came down against the opponents,” Golden said. “It’s indicative of the failure of the opponents to understand the laws and regulations regarding wind development as well as the impacts. They have spread enormous amounts of misinformation and misled the people of Peru into voting for this unlawful bylaw.”
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