No town is an island

There’s a growing resistance to wind farms in the town of Otis. Nor is Otis alone. The phenomenon might be dismissed as garden variety NIMBY, but that would be a mistake.

Unlike subdivisions, filling stations or rental units, the impact of wind turbines does not stop at the town line. Visible for miles in all directions, wind turbines are not solely the business of the host town.

“It is too bad each town acts independently when one can affect the other so much,” said Otis resident Teresa Davis. She was referring to wind projects in neighboring hill towns that have become part of the shared skyline.

Resolute as the resistance may be, the restrictions Davis and many others in Otis advocate are hardly draconian. They’re not saying “No more wind turbines.” They’re saying “Not too big, not too many.” An ordinance they advocate would set turbine height limits of 150 feet, less than half the height of many, if not most, commercial turbines.

The ordinance under consideration would limit the number of wind turbines to one per five-acre lot, with no more than three on any single lot. It also would set decibel limits and require a scenic assessment.

This effort is being undertaken as Weaver Wind, a $140-million, 22-wind turbine project moves through the state permitting process. The turbines for that project would be located in neighboring Eastbrook and Osborn, with maintenance and operations in Aurora.

All of this is happening against a dynamic backdrop of more and bigger wind turbines. The arithmetic (well, maybe it’s physics) is simple and boils down to bigger is better. For there are two ways to exploit wind power. One is bigger rotors and blades to catch more wind. The other is height. For peak efficiency, those blades need to be high up in the atmosphere where the wind is more constant.

Issuing or withholding wind turbine permits is testing the limits of home rule. A 400- or 500-foot tower’s impact is not exclusive to the town in which it has been erected. Maybe the solution is a renewed focus on offshore turbines, which is the trend in Europe. In any case, the pressure’s on for an approach — arguably a regional approach — to wind turbine siting that recognizes the literally towering impact of this iteration of green power.

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