PERU -- Commercial wind energy developers will have to look elsewhere to build their industrial turbines.
By a single vote, Peru residents at Saturday’s annual town meeting approved a zoning bylaw that bars major developers of wind energy from the town. The vote -- 105-52 -- exactly met the two-thirds-plus-one majority required.
Members of Peru Concerned Citizens, who formed after a developer proposed to build five 500-foot wind turbines in town, celebrated in disbelief when Town Counsel Joel Bard confirmed the result.
"This town is full of surprises," said Susan Masino, a member of PCC.
The new zoning rule, to fall under the wind energy conversion system section of the bylaw, states that systems "shall be primarily for on-site distributional use: up to 50 percent of the energy generated may be sold or used off-site."
The measure prevents developers like Lightship Energy, which recently withdrew its proposal to erect wind turbines between Haskell and Garnet Hills off Curtin Road, from building in Peru.
Individuals wanting to build small wind energy systems on their own property, however, remain free to do so under the new changes.
Tensions spiked early on when some opposed a motion from resident James Kenney to vote on the bylaw change at the beginning rather than the end of the meeting, illustrating the stark political division in Peru over so-called industrial wind.
The room seemed evenly divided, sides staked out, while residents debated the merits of changing the bylaw.
Resident Tom Borden argued for green energy in all forms as necessary for future generations.
"The stakes for our children and grandchildren are huge," he said. "Everything we decide today will impact them."
Zoning Board of Appeals member Peter Shelsy opposed the bylaw change on financial grounds, saying the town needed the extra cash.
"We need to keep the opportunity for commercial wind generation available," Shelsy said.
School budgets and taxes will continue to rise, Shelsy said; meanwhile, the town has few revenue generators.
PCC members and others countered, decrying "commercialized green energy," where Peru gets little -- perhaps $150,000 per year -- while the developer cashes in on millions.
Resident Scott Seely calculated the $150,000 figure estimate floated by Lightship as equal to 41 cents per resident per day and placed Lightship’s daily take at $18,000, thanks to state and federal green energy tax credits.
"All this large-scale wind is possible because of public subsidy, out of our pockets," Seely said.
Resident John DiTomasso said a wind farm would hurt property values in Peru and others said the structures might harmfully affect people living nearby.
The vote flew in the face of a report the state issued several years ago identifying Peru as the best site for on-shore wind energy development.
In other business, the town empowered the Select Board to advertise for an 18-hour-per-week town administrator at a salary of $20,000 or less.
Town Meeting also passed a proposed fiscal 2015 budget of $1.95 million in full, $859,163 of which accounted for the town’s appropriation to the Central Berkshire Regional School District.
The budget represented an increase of less than $100,000 over fiscal 2014.
To reach Phil Demers:
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