The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 17, 2009

Planning Board says wind turbine and solar energy bylaws need more work

At its April 13 meeting the Planning Board voted 6-0 to recommend that the Selectmen not move Warrant Article 33 (Solar Power Generation and Wind Conversion Systems Bylaw) at the May 4 Annual Town Meeting. Further, if moved, the board will recommend against the motion. Before the vote there was almost two hours of discussion – each of the six attending board members and the two associate members described their personal deliberations, conclusions and reservations on the proposed bylaw.

Consensus was reached on the following:

• Carlisle’s present bylaws allow roof top solar systems as an accessory use – a separate bylaw is not needed for such installations.

• The proposed new bylaw relates to solar systems on structures other than rooftops but, in the opinion of the board, is inadequate to appropriately control extent, size and height of freestanding installations that could be detrimental to neighbors.

• Wind turbine noise is inadequately handled in the proposed bylaw, particularly the distinction between daytime and nighttime noise.

• Impact on wildlife, particularly the interaction of raptors and other birds with a lattice structure and rapidly turning blades, is inadequately handled.

In spite of the extensive work done by the subcommittee and the expertise of its members, professional consultants have not been involved who have knowledge of practical aspects of wind turbine noise, placement and operation.

As written, the proposed bylaw section on setback of a wind turbine tower is problematic because the Board of Appeals does not have to take concerns of adjacent property owners into account. [“ Setback: The wind turbine tower shall be set back at least one tower height plus one rotor radius from any property line, except that setback may be reduced by the Board of Appeals, if it finds there is no risk to the public safety or welfare or risk to the safety or welfare of abutting properties...” The entire text of the proposed bylaw is posted on]

Vice-chair Brian Larson had three specific objections. “The First Religious Society steeple is 100 feet high. The bylaw would permit a lattice tower 140 feet tall. That is not justified in a residential area.” He also objected to the process for the special permit, “The base for such a lattice tower will be huge. Structures involve engineering questions. The Board of Appeals does not have the expertise to handle this.” He also felt that “no credible opinions have been given on how this will affect property values.”

Member Marc Lamere said, “The noise section is inadequate.” He wants special consideration to be given to nighttime noise.

Member Kent Gonzales, who was involved with the Wireless Facility Bylaw, expressed a concern that lattice structures were specifically disallowed for wireless antennas in favor of monopoles, but that lattice structures would be allowed for wind turbines.

Associate member David Freedman said that the proposed bylaw states that the lowest blade tip shall not be higher than 20 feet above the average tree height, whereas information from the American Wind Energy Association indicates that 30 feet is needed to avoid air turbulence. He said, “There are things written on the web by wind advocates that say the worst thing you can have is a bad bylaw.”

Member Michael Epstein said, “It is hard not to support alternative energy. An argument has been made that if we don’t have something in place quickly the state will impose something – 40B-type situation. Town counsel has indicated and other investigation has revealed that is not the case. Yes, the state is encouraging the use of green technology but that seems to be mostly at the municipal level. I would be much more in favor of a bylaw or initiative by the town that identifies locations for community or municipal use rather than individual windmills. Setback changes [in the proposed bylaw]have moved in the wrong direction. We could have 140-foot towers with zero setback. At the public hearings for noise there was no expert testimony given. There are issues: impact on property values, wildlife, noise that have not been adequately handled. I’m surprised that there is no one here from the task force to discuss this with us.”

Member Ken Hoffman indicated that initially he was in favor. He said, “What turned me the other way was the discussion during the public hearing on noise.”

Tom Lane said, “As an associate member I don’t get a vote. Some persuasive arguments have been made here. I have gone to a number of web sites that show the suitability of different areas for wind generation.” His conclusion is that Carlisle is not suitable.

Alan Carpenito emphasized that he was speaking as a citizen not as a Selectman. “I’ve come to enough of your meetings to realize that you are conscientious about the character of the community. And now we have this. OK, it is springtime, you get up on a Sunday morning, looking at the trees, the flowers, listening to the birds and there is this 140 foot thing next door to your house going whup, whup. I just cannot believe that this community would consider these things in our town. People come here, spend a lot of money to buy a home. Some buy big homes – 5,000 or 6,000 square feet and put up a windmill to save energy! They should just cut the house in half and throw half of it away. Except for the cars, when you walk down the street the town looks like it did 100 years ago. You have to look at the big picture – the impact on the community.”

Chair Greg Peterson, a member of the committee that developed the proposed bylaw, said, “Given the cost strictures [monopoles being more expensive] I was initially prepared to look the other way on the question of lattice towers even with visual impact issues.” He said a reference in the Mosquito report on the March 9 public hearing on this bylaw was inappropriately attributed to him. The reference concerned the interaction of raptors with wind turbines at the Altamont Pass Wind Resource Area. He does have concern for impact on wildlife. He said, “I think we would see raptors perching on towers. We have a relatively natural environment with plenty of rodents. Really large facilities have low rotation rates, the birds see it, and it is like jaywalking in traffic. The smaller units can operate in excess of 50 rpm. Raptors will perch on towers, they will take off, ride the thermals, and they will not see the turbine. The smaller units (like the Bergey 10 kW unit) run at approximately 300 rpm – five revolutions per second. A bird will not see it.”

Regarding solar, Peterson said, “There has been a certain degree of intellectual dishonesty that says we don’t allow solar systems. We do allow them – on roofs. There is 30 years’ custom – with experience mostly for hot water systems but also solar electric.” Peterson called for a vote. ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito