Regulators to ride herd on harnessing the wind
Like prospectors who discovered gold in the old West, developers, business owners, and homeowners are rushing to stake their claims to free, renewable energy by putting up wind turbines.
As more of the structures sprout, however, local, state, and federal authorities are struggling to close the gap between old regulations and relatively new technology.
On Martha's Vineyard, there is no standard Island-wide town bylaw regarding wind turbines.
Although Aquinnah currently has no wind turbine bylaw, the structures are ruled out by zoning restrictions on building heights and sites.
Last August, however, voters at a special town meeting said yes to the possibility of a municipal renewable wind energy program and the possible construction of a wind turbine on town-owned land.
After receiving favorable responses from residents to a questionnaire about wind energy, Aquinnah's planning board has been working on a new wind bylaw. Board member Carlos Montoya said this week that the town plans to hold two public forums in August to present the bylaw to voters for discussion. After considering comments, the planning board will hold a hearing on the final version of the bylaw to put before voters as a warrant article at a special town meeting.
In Chilmark, the planning board is reviewing the town's zoning bylaws, which address windmills under "accessory uses." Conditional provisions restrict tower climbing access and require a recommendation by the site review committee as to the height and siting of a windmill. The board of appeals determines whether the proposed height and location of the windmill interferes with the "rights of abutters to enjoy their property." Wind turbines are not addressed in Chilmark's current bylaws regarding districts of critical planning concern.
Edgartown enacted a wind bylaw that conditionally allows by special permit the use of "wind energy conversion systems." The bylaw requires a minimum setback distance for the wind turbine equal to the maximum tip height (MTH) of the wind turbine, plus 20 feet from any neighboring property line.
The bylaw restricts tower climbing access and requires the applicant to demonstrate that the turbine will not cause excess noise or interference with local television and radio reception.
In zoning bylaws for Oak Bluffs, a section on special regulations states that "a windmill is allowed as of right," provided it meets certain conditions. The setback requirement is the same as Edgartown's. Oak Bluffs limits tower height to 70 feet from grade to the center of the rotor and the diameter of the rotor to no more than 35 feet. Anything else requires a special permit from the Board of Appeals.
Tisbury's zoning bylaws prohibit windmills, which fall under the description of "slender structures," in excess of 80 feet in height above the mean natural grade of the lot and adjacent lots. In residential areas, wind turbines higher than 40 feet require a permit from the Board of Appeals, as do those in the business district that exceed 80 feet in height. There is also a setback requirement.