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Chester wind turbine faces uphill battle

By John Sakata, Berkshire Eagle Staff,
Saturday January 12, 2013

CHESTER -- A wind turbine is, again, being explored in Chester, but similar to two other failed attempts, the prospective location could face formidable challenges to its construction.

It’s being considered for land owned by Chester in the town of Becket -- and Becket has very strict rules governing the construction of large-scale wind turbines.

This time, the renewable energy company First Wind is examining wind turbine construction. Chester has twice previously explored a wind turbine, Electric Light Commissioner Gene Bishop said, but has no funds invested in this project -- although town officials are watching the development with interest.

In September 2012, First Wind erected a sizable meteorological tower on Chester-owned property within Becket’s borders.

Even if the location proves to be a good spot for wind energy, construction is in limbo before it begins. The Becket Planning Board has designated a subcommittee to review the already-strict bylaws governing large wind turbines in town and possibly strengthen a nearly impregnable set of rules.

Director of Corporate Communications John Lamontagne, of First Wind, stated in an e-mail that the plans are in a preliminary phase and that the meteorological tower would simply gather wind data in the area for one to two years. The height of the proposed wind turbine was not disclosed.

Becket provided a permit for the construction of the meteorological tower and could take additional action after creating a subcommittee to review the wind turbine bylaws.

"If any studies show the effect is harmful to humans then the townspeople would probably tighten the bylaw and make it more stringent," Becket Planning Board member Bob Roziano said. "It’s already restrictive as is."

Becket’s zoning bylaws regulating 200-foot wind turbines include an extensive list of rules. A special permit would be needed from the town. There are extensive layers of reporting required on noise and sound. An analysis on avian and bat species would have to be conducted by an independent wildlife biologist. There is also an annual limit of 30 hours of shadows, or flicker, on any off-site inhabited building or undeveloped lot.

The bylaw also allows for more restrictions. Additional restrictions can be imparted in the town’s special permit.

"The bylaw is very, very restrictive," Roziano said. "It puts so much restriction on developers, some people would say it’s almost impossible for anyone or [an] entity to be able to put [up] a large-scale wind turbine."

This will be the third attempt in about six years to develop a wind energy project on the Chester-owned land within Becket, Bishop said. The first attempt was done at a site about a quarter-mile from the current testing location, but the topography blocked the wind, he said.

That plan was abandoned because the location failed to produce enough electricity over its lifespan to be profitable, he said.

There was another town attempt to build on Blandford Road near the Blandford town line, but the privately owned property was too expensive.

In this latest effort, Bishop said that the town’s role could be relegated to providing electricity lines to a future wind turbine, but he also said the town could engage in a more robust role.

Whether this turbine comes to pass is wait-and-see.

"Whether they will meet these requirements will determine once the hearings [start]," Roziano said.