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Hopkinton delays discussion of wind law

HOPKINTON – After about 40 minutes of public comment on a new proposed wind law, the Hopkinton Town Board tabled discussion of the issue to a special session later this month.

The new wind law would replace the current town law, passed in 2011. It would regulate the North Ridge Wind Energy Project, which the energy company Avangrid plans to establish in the town.

During the meeting, the board shared correspondence about the law, including a letter from Jody Wentzel, a member of the Wind Advisory Board that drafted the law. But the board did not discuss the law itself beyond setting up a work session on Feb. 27 to reach a final version of the law.

“I’d like it where the board members can discuss calmly, and compromise, and get this law nailed down,” said Town Supervisor Susan M. Wood to the board. “Even though we’ve heard from one attorney that we don’t have to hurry, two other attorneys are telling me, ‘get it in place.’”

The need to get a law passed soon has been the cause of some confusion over the past week, with the central issue being whether the wind law needs to be approved before Avangrid brings its application for the project to the state siting board.

Initially, the town board thought that the law should be passed at its March meeting, making this the last scheduled town meeting at which to discuss the law.

Then, a member of the board spoke to Paul Agresta, general counsel with the state Public Service Commission, which regulates energy generation projects.

According to Ms. Wood, Mr. Agresta said the new law would apply whenever it was passed, information the Public Service Commission confirmed with the Times.

After consulting the town attorney on Monday, however, Ms. Wood told the Times at the town meeting that the town attorney said it was still important to pass the law as quickly as possible, before Avangrid filed.

“I would hope to get a vote in March,” Ms. Wood told the Times. “I’m going with our town attorney today.”

She also said that Agresta was not the attorney who had told the board it did not have to hurry. She declined to name that attorney.

The North Ridge Wind Project, and the regulations that the town will place on it, has been the subject of much debate over nearly two years. Currently the major issues that remain are whether the town will allow wind turbines to be placed south of State Route 72, as well as some issues of sound limits and setbacks.

Mr. Wentzel’s letter, which Ms. Wood read aloud, criticized the spread of “grossly misleading statements” about the project, and asked the town board to pass the wind law as recommended by the Wind Advisory Board.

“We discussed, argued, compromised and eventually proposed a wind law we felt was fair to both sides,” Mr. Wentzel wrote. “The wind law does not give everyone everything they want. … It is imperative to have this law in place.”

At the beginning of the meeting, 18 people took a chance to speak during the public comment section, all addressing the North Ridge Wind Project.

Most of them spoke in favor of the new wind law, which would be more restrictive than the 2011 version. Most residents who spoke wanted the law to be passed with tighter restrictions.

“I’m hoping to see no further compromise,” Lori Witherell, a resident who spoke during the public comment section, told the Times. “Pass (the law) the way it was presented, respect the Hopkinton Wind Advisory Board.”

Some residents still feel strongly that the turbines are important for the town, however. Kathleen Potenzano, a 45-year resident of the town, has a lease for a turbine but says she would support the project whether or not she had a turbine on her property.

“I really think we need to do something about the environment,” she said, adding that the town needed some source of revenue. “You can’t just run a town on grants.”

Ms. Potenzano thinks that the more restrictive elements of the wind law are unreasonable.

“I think if you have a more restrictive law, you don’t have a project,” she said. “We really are doing what we think is best for the town.”

The Hopkinton Town Board will hold its work session at 6:30 on Feb. 27 at the Town Hall, at 7 Church St.