Greenwood selectmen, on July 17, are expected to set a date for a special Town Meeting to decide the fate of proposed amendments to the commercial wind farm section of the town ordinance.
On July 9, more than 100 people turned out for a public hearing on the issue that was dominated by comments in favor of the amendments, which would place much tighter restrictions on wind farms.
One new provision – the height restriction on turbine towers – would effectively ban such projects.
The Calpine Corporation is currently studying the viability of a 13-turbine “Long Mountain Wind Farm” project in the area of Long, Tibbetts and Elwell mountains, near Twitchell Pond. Prompted by the potential development, Greenwood’s Ordinance Review Committee has proposed the updates for the ordinance.
The town’s existing ordinance limits decibel levels from routine operation of wind turbines to 55 decibels daytime and 42 at night at non-participating landowner property lines, the same as state guidelines. Setbacks from property lines are a minimum of 150 percent of the height of the towers. There are no height limits specified.
A key part of the new proposal includes a recommendation for decibel limits with a daytime audible decibel maximum of 35, and 25 decibels at night. The ORC also recommended to limit tower heights to 250 feet (as measured from the tower base to the highest point of any turbine rotor blade, at the highest arc of the blade) and establish setbacks of one mile per 100 feet of tower height.
Calpine has said its wind facility would need towers that are more than 500 feet in height, and the project would likely utilize 600-foot towers. In early June, the company hosted a public informational session on the project.
Monday’s town hearing, which lasted just under two hours, featured a page-by-page explanation of key parts of the proposed amendments by Planning Board Chairman/ORC member Dennis Doyon.
Among the highlights:
- A requirement to show on a map any scenic resource or historic site to be impacted by a wind farm within 1,000 feet of any disturbed area associated with the farm (the current ordinance specifies one mile).
- Details regarding noise control that include reference to information provided to the ORC by their consultants, who provided data and opinion on the effects of wind farm noise on human health and recommended standards to minimize those. The consultants said health problems may include such issues as sleep disorders, motion sickness, nausea, headaches, vertigo and stress.
- A requirement that measurements to determine compliance with sound levels at property lines should be done at wind speeds at which the turbine is shown to produce the highest sound level based on vendor testing.
- A requirement to measure “infrasound,” which is not detectable to the ear but can be measured with instrumentation. Doyon said the Greenwood proposal is the first in the U.S. to have an infrasound component.
Public complaints about wind turbine operations to be made via a written town complaint form (rather than to a company phone number, as stipulated in the current ordinance). A detailed procedure/timeline is spelled out for dealing with complaints.
A tightening of the decommissioning process for towers that cease to generate electricity to cover financing for decommissioning in situations in which the towers might be abandoned by the wind company.
The “complaints” section of the ordinance proposal prompted one of the evening’s longer discussions.
An abutter to the property where Calpine would like to build its project expressed concern about how complaints, particularly noise ones, would be resolved.
Doyon said if a wind company exceeded the ordinance restrictions it would become an enforcement issue for the town to pursue.
ORC member Jessie Frederickson also noted that complaints recorded with Greenwood would be publicly posted online.
Property owner Jake Zagata generally praised the work of the committee, saying the ORC has given the town the “tools” to deal with the wind power situation. “This is an opportunity to get some control in this uncharted area,” he said.
Regarding the financial impact of a project on the town, Calpine earlier this year presented figures on the net property tax revenue it said Greenwood would gain from a wind farm, as well as a proposal for a community benefits agreement, under which Greenwood and local organizations would receive money annually from the wind company.
But Marie Bartlett, who served many years as a Greenwood selectman, predicted Monday that the increased town valuation due to a wind farm would also result in the loss of state revenue sharing funds and state aid to schools.
She also said the company’s figures don’t take into account potential loss of individual property values due to the presence of a wind farm.
“Do you really think that tourists are going to come up especially to look at wind mills?” she asked.
Resident Norm Milliard spoke in support of the amendments. He likened the situation to one 20 years ago, when the town voted to regulate jet skis on its lakes.
“You, the voters, chose what you wanted the town of Greenwood to be like as we moved toward the future. Twenty years later, 2018, the town of Greenwood is at another crossroad,” he said, with an opportunity to choose what it will look like for the next 20 years.
The town’s mountains, he said, are as valuable to Greenwood’s identity as its ponds were in 1998.
Calpine representatives attended the hearing, but did not speak.
Near the end of the meeting Doyon outlined the parameters for the town vote on the ordinance.
He said the proposal could not be amended at the Town Meeting, and that if the proposal is defeated, a current 180-day Greenwood moratorium on applications for wind projects will remain in place until October. Any next steps would then be determined by selectmen – whether to send the proposal back to the ORC for revisions, or whether to let the decision stand and remain with the current ordinance.
Also at the meeting selectmen handed out a written survey sheet asking voters’ preference on what days of the week/times to schedule the special Town Meeting.
Copies of the ordinance proposal and other information are available at the Town Office, and minutes of the hearing will also be available shortly.