The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, May 15, 2009

Withdrawn energy bylaw heads back to the drawing board

The withdrawal of Article 33 proposing a solar power generation and wind conversion systems bylaw from the Warrant for Town Meeting May 4 was a last minute decision by the Board of Selectmen (BOS) on the advice of the Accessory Alternative Clean Energy Generation Committee (AACEGC). After a year of work, two public meetings, and a thumbs-down review by the Planning Board, the committee realized there were too many unresolved issues to move forward at this time. Among these issues were wind turbine noise impacts, visibility, affect on wildlife, and feasibility for a low-wind location like Carlisle. “We all agreed there should be some further work done on this bylaw,” said Bill Tice, BOS representative to the AACEGC at the BOS meeting April 28.

Noise level concern

Greg Peterson, Planning Board Chair and AACEGC member, said that in the two public hearings, many concerns were raised. The noise levels allowed for wind turbines in the proposed bylaw were “pretty significant,” says Peterson. A letter passed out at the BOS meeting from David Gaggin of Heald Road included an opinion by Shlansky & Co. LLP Attorneys at Law that C-weighted low-frequency noise should be measured by a qualified engineer, and measurements should be required before and after construction, and in day and nighttime conditions. Peterson noted the AACEGC was willing to make changes, but the controversy revealed the need for more expertise on potential auditory impacts.

Wildlife impact questioned

Another issue was wildlife. The AACEGC believed there were few impacts on birds, but Peterson notes a University of Massachusetts website indicates wind turbines can cause bird kill in areas with significant populations of Red-tailed Hawks. Lattice towers are particularly problematic because the raptors like to perch, and smaller, faster turbines with speeds beyond 50 rpm pose the greatest risk. The bylaw would have included wind turbines operating at speeds up to 300 rpm, well into the raptor danger zone. Bats also may be impacted, though Peterson noted that it is “an open question.”

Other concerns were raised that wind power might not be feasible for an inland location like Carlisle. “Carlisle’s a lousy place for wind,” said Peterson. The low average wind speed combined with turbulence from trees could make wind turbines ineffective.

Consistency sought with cell bylaw

The Planning Board had a particular concern with inconsistencies between the proposed limits for wind turbines and those in place for cell towers. To meet the 30-foot blade clearance recommended by the American Wind Energy Association on sites with trees within 300 feet would mean “structures more than twice as high as those allowed under the wireless bylaw,” said Peterson. In addition, the proposed bylaw would have allowed wind lattice towers, as monopoles are too expensive for residential installation. According to Peterson, the public “has voted repeatedly to put the kibosh on that” in respect to cell towers. The inconsistency could have led to lawsuits in which it would be difficult to argue the unaesthetic impact of lattice cell towers while allowing lattice-tower wind turbines.

In short, “Everything was pointing in exactly the wrong direction,” says Peterson. He notes all members of the Planning Board did extensive research and that the expertise of the board, which includes Kent Gonzales, a LEED-certified engineer, as well as architecture and legal experience, was helpful. In addition, there was “wonderful feedback from the public.” Although many complain about public participation, “In this case, they turned out in force,” and raised many issues that might otherwise have been missed.

Need for speed?

“Why rush into this before we understand what we’re getting into?” asks Peterson. “There was a concern that the bylaw was proceeding under a mistaken premise. Statements were made that somehow the state was going to require wind turbines if the community did not have a bylaw. The Planning Board could never find any evidence of this.” The Green Communities Act contains no such recommendations, and Town Council confirmed there is no plan to impose 40B-like requirements for green energy.

In addition, some believed the existing bylaw would allow unregulated wind turbines, and parameters were needed. In truth, the one application the town has received for a wind turbine was denied by the acting building commissioner as violating non-accessory height restrictions. Rooftop solar photo-voltaic and solar hot water are allowed under existing bylaws.

Next steps

At their meeting Monday, the Planning Board drafted a letter containing recommendations to the BOS regarding proceeding with green energy. The current AACEGC’s term has expired and the BOS must decide whether to reform the committee. In addition, it may be necessary to engage expert professionals as was done for drafting cell tower bylaws. The board is recommending “a longer look in terms of what makes sense,” says Peterson. At $50,000 to $75,000, residential wind turbines may not be feasible in an area of low wind. A commercial site using larger, slower moving turbines might address the issues.

On the other hand, Peterson notes a focus on green energy might begin with an expansion of solar hot water, which is highly efficient, and with greater emphasis on conservation. A small wind turbine costs $50,000 and “you could replace a lot of windows for that,” he says. “There’s a romance to the wind stuff, but we have to be smart about the impact on the human and animal environment.”

“There’s a lot left to learn here,” says Peterson. “The technology is evolving.” He notes that recently, the Mass Technology Collaborative has been reviewing whether to continue with grants to fund small wind turbines as the capacity has proved less than expected.

At the BOS meeting, Bob Konig of the AACEGC noted, “The most important thing we learned is this is a new technology for this country. A lot of the answers aren’t there, but sometime it will catch up.” He added, “The Planning Board helped us a lot on that.” ∆

© 2009 The Carlisle Mosquito