Plymouth Town Meeting petition proposes wind turbine moratorium

A wind turbine in Kingston will undergo a noise study by the state.
A wind turbine in Kingston will undergo a noise study by the state. Bill Greene/globe staff/file

With seven wind turbines queued up for construction in Plymouth, a group of residents has submitted a petition for a fall Town Meeting article that would set a two-year moratorium on more permits. 

During the break, the Planning Board would conduct a “comprehensive review of the existing bylaw . . . in light of the reported health impacts and widespread litigation in neighboring communities,” the proposal states.

As part of the process for fall Town Meeting, which will convene Oct. 20, the Planning Board will hold a public hearing on the warrant article at 7:15 p.m. Monday in Town Hall.

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The petition’s author, Kerry Kearney, said he isn’t against wind energy. “I just don’t think they should be built so close to residents,” he said.

Plymouth was one of the first communities in the state to enact a wind-energy bylaw, in 2005. The town’s Energy Committee chairman, John Corcoran, said the bylaw was originally drafted to allow construction of a municipal wind turbine near the waste-water treatment plant to generate a little income for Plymouth.

“It was going in an area that everybody could accept,” Corcoran said. The turbine was never built, but the bylaw, following a review by the state, was expanded to allow for wind projects on private property in addition to those on municipal land.

Since the bylaw’s enactment, the Zoning Board of Appeals has approved special permits for turbines in four locations: on bogs off Head of the Bay Road; near Hedges Pond Road; near Walmart at Colony Place; and the Balboni commercial-industrial property off Camelot Drive.  

No turbines have been completed, but the Balboni tower is under construction.

Kearney said the biggest flaw is the local bylaw’s distance requirement, which allows a turbine to be no closer than its full height, from the ground to blade tip, from a neighboring property line.

“There are lots of examples of where there are turbines three tower heights away from residents, and people are still struggling with health problems,” Kearney said.

Kearney’s home on Treetop Lane is close to the targeted location of two proposed turbines off Hedges Pond Road in south Plymouth. The proposal was ultimately abandoned due to public outcry.

A later plan for a single wind turbine off Hedges Pond Road, about a half mile from Kearney’s property, received its local permit, but is stalled by a court appeal by neighbors.

South Plymouth bog owner Keith Mann is on track to soon begin construction on his four 492-foot-tall wind turbines, although his project had also been delayed by court appeals filed by neighbors.

Mann said last week he has reached settlements with the neighbors of three wind turbines and expects a settlement soon with neighbors of the fourth. The turbines, which will stand in his bogs off Head of the Bay Road, should be up and running by fall 2013, Mann said.

Public resistance to turbine projects has been considerable in many area communities.

An industrial-size turbine, proposed by the Trustees of Reservations for Cohasset’s Turkey Hill, has been tied up in court for two years. Milton’s proposal for a 2-megawatt machine remains the subject of an appeal from the neighboring Granite Links Golf Club, although the town expects a settlement to be reached within the next two months. 

Pushback from concerned residents in Duxbury caused the town’s Alternative Energy Committee to halt plans for a municipal wind turbine late last year.

And in Kingston, neighbors of three privately owned industrial wind turbines and a fourth on the town’s landfill, and known as Independence, have drawn outcry from neighbors who say the whirring blades are causing health problems ranging from ringing ears and chronic headaches to vertigo and sleep disturbance.

State officials recently agreed to conduct noise studies of the Kingston turbines, similar to ones they did in Falmouth and Fairhaven.  

Mann said he thinks turbines have been given a bad name because of the noise from an older wind turbine in Falmouth. “Modern wind turbines are much quieter,” said Mann, who added extensive noise studies, projecting the impacts of his four turbines, had been conducted.

“There’s a lot of science behind it,” Mann said. “But there are always going to be some who feel there should be no noise.”

Plymouth planning technician Patrick Farrah, who is working with a subcommittee on amendments to the town’s wind energy bylaw, said the panel may step back to see what happens with the petition article next month.

“If there’s a moratorium, it will give us a chance to look at our options,” he said.

Petition articles with sufficient signatures are automatically placed on the Town Meeting warrant, but are reviewed by the town’s attorneys.  Based on the legal review, Town Manager Melissa Arrighi said, some sections of the moratorium proposal may need adjustment for Town Meeting to act on it.

For instance, she said, the proposed bylaw would stop building permits from being issued for approved turbines during the moratorium. Those projects, however, would be grandfathered, and could therefore move forward with construction after the moratorium, Arrighi said.

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