Wind jurisdiction  belongs to locals

The towns of Temple and New Ipswich want jurisdiction over a proposed new wind facility that would straddle both towns, and we can’t blame them. Timbertop Wind, a subsidiary of Texas-based Pioneer Green, has gone directly to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee, bypassing the towns’ land use boards, with an application for a five-turbine wind facility. In filing the application, it is asking the SEC to accept jurisdiction.

The SEC, a state-level review board for large-scale energy projects, is currently reviewing Timbertop’s request and will likely hold a public hearing on it some time in the coming weeks.

Timbertop Wind’s position is that jurisdiction belongs with the SEC because the proposal involves more than one town and more than one set of local ordinances, and is therefore regional in nature. Timbertop Wind Vice President Adam Cohen has said that dealing with multiple land use boards would be difficult. “This will eliminate duplication in the process,” he said in an interview late last month about turning to the SEC. “Working with two zoning and planning boards, it’s difficult to plan one project. We’ve worked with the community up until now, and we’ll continue that. This is a just way to keep the process linear and uniform.”

Going straight to the SEC may be the easiest path for the company, but it’s certainly not in the best interest of Temple and New Ipswich residents, who deserve an active voice in the process. The proposed wind project will affect local people, and they are the ones best equipped to evaluate that impact. The zoning rules in each town will guide the project respectively, ensuring that the regulations the voters agreed to in each town are upheld.

Cohen has also said that he does not support a number of changes made to the New Ipswich wind ordinance in 2012, particularly the restrictions on noise. In 2010, when New Ipswich first adopted a wind ordinance, up to 50 decibels of noise was allowed anywhere on the property of a nearby landowner and up to 45 decibels inside any occupied structure owned by a nearby landowner. Since then, the noise restriction has been tightened to 33 decibels.

Temple, too, adheres to the 33 decibel rule. Cohen has said the restriction is tantamount to a ban on wind. But that is something that could be appealed to the courts if necessary, and does not, in our estimation, justify taking away jurisdiction from local governments that have not yielded that authority.

In the case of the Antrim Wind project, which if approved would erect 10 wind turbines on the ridgeline of Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain, the development calls for a facility with a capacity of 30 megawatts, a level at which the state’s jurisdiction kicks in. And while the SEC may take Antrim’s wind rules into account, the state-level board is not bound by them. The Temple-New Ipswich facility would have a capacity of 15 megawatts, if approved.

New Ipswich Select Board Chair George Lawrence pointed out at a meeting last week that the town’s wind ordinance was passed with a healthy majority, and to disregard the will of the people and simply hand over jurisdiction to the state would undo all of the hard work of the town’s land use boards.

We couldn’t agree more.

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