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Saturday, May 7, 2011

Charlestown Doldrums

If you have three hours and nothing better to do, you should check out the recording of the Thursday, May 5 Joint Meeting of the Town Council and Planning Commission on wind turbines.
Wind turbine permitting process

I've discussed this issue many times in earlier postings (hit "Wind Power" under "Hot Topics" in the right-hand column to see all those earlier posts). Rather than cover the same ground, I will focus on observations and areas I haven't covered.

Overall, I was surprised there were so few surprises. But one surprise did come at the two-hour mark where, perhaps out of exhaustion, the Council and Commission members actually talked about banning all wind turbines and not just pecking wind projects to death But mostly the discussion was more focused on ways to create so many hurdles that wind power just isn't going to happen. The only real debate was whether to make it impossible, rather than almost impossible, for homeowners to put up turbines for their own use.

Public Health and Safety. CCA Council member Dan Slattery described how he's a "fact and logic guy" and had done exhaustive research, sounding at times like Bill Nye the Science Guy and at other times like Joe McCarthy. Dan has this list of problems and a mass of research and testimony that makes him certain that wind turbines pose a health and safety risk. Lisa DiBello echoed those concerns.

If Slattery and DiBello really believe turbines pose a health and safety threat, then they should demand a complete and total ban on those grounds. Anything short of that is breech of their duty to the town.

Setback. Slattery claims that a 3:1 setback is an industry standard. Planning Commissar Ruth Platner notes that there is virtually no property in town that could harbor a major commercial turbine and abide by the setback and other conditions in the ordinance. She said the town's ordinance essentially eliminates commercial turbines - which is what I've been saying about the ordinance for weeks. It is clear that there will be no turbines larger than 200' or higher than 100 kilowatts in capacity so long as the CCA controlls the town council and planning commission.

Domestic turbines. Some of the CCA planning commissioners (Gordon Foer and George Tremblay mainly) want to be more open to Charlestown residents who want to install wind turbines for their own use and perhaps their neighbors. Tremblay presented a series of hypothetical home turbine scenarios to demonstrate how complicated it is to come up with a turbine plan that breaks even. Despite their best efforts to argue for a more open posture toward homeowner or neighborhood use, the odds are still against domestic turbines. Kate Waterman seemed to express the majority opinion that the town doesn't care whether a homeowner's turbine is sized to break even.

Bye-bye wind power. For a few minutes (at that two hour mark I mentioned earlier) it looked like the TC-PC were on the verge of deciding to go for an outright ban on turbines. But after this brief interlude of honesty, TC Prez Tom Gentz steered the group back to discussing the "baby steps" of incremental regulation if and when the town decides to lift the moratorium. In the end, there was "consensus" that only turbines less than 200' high and under 100 kw in power would even be considered and then under the draconian terms set out in the town ordinance.

When the meeting finally turned to audience comments at the 2:30 mark, the tin-foil hat NIMBYs showed that they have a hard time taking "yes" for an answer. Even though they had clearly gotten what they wanted, they droned on about the deadly perils and sheer offensiveness of wind energy, even comparing wind turbines to nuclear power plants. And, unlike my own wisecracks about nukes, these guys weren't joking. They also anointed Dan Slattery as their hero of the hour.

I used to wonder where the CCA held its meetings. After all, they control this town, so naturally I wondered how they operate and how they make decisions. But I think the mystery is solved - if you want to see a CCA meeting, just look at the joint PC-TC meetings.

Author: Will Collette