Questions persist over Peru wind turbine proposal, but plans going forward
PERU -- Plans for a wind farm are moving forward, despite questions about the status of the project's developer, according to a town official.
Lightship Energy, an LLC that is working to build five industrial-sized wind turbines in Peru, was technically dissolved by court order last June for failing to file three years of annual reports.
Opponents of the project say the company no longer has standing to pursue the development.
"This developer is a dissolved LLC with no liability and no track record, relying on public money to plan and pay for the project, and millions more of public money once it's built," resident Susan Masino said in an interview with The Eagle. "They're fly-by-night carpetbaggers who just might ruin the town."
But Zoning Board of Appeals member Samuel P. Haupt said the LLC troubles amount to "an administrative suspension," which shouldn't derail the permitting process about to commence.
Lightship Energy wants to build five, 500-foot turbines between Haskell and Garnet Hills off Curtin Road. The nearest homes would fall within 2,000 feet of the structures, where there are approximately 70 homes within a mile radius.
Proponents of the project point to the nationwide need for clean, renewable energy and the potential tax revenue it could bring the town. Opponents believe noise and vibrations caused by the company's turbines could cause ill health effects for some living near the structures -- like vertigo, sleeping problems, nausea and more.
A state report conducted in 2012 on the health impacts of living near wind turbines found no conclusive evidence of such claims.
Those opponents formed a group called Peru Concerned Citizens, which last fall led a failed effort to stop the project. But their concerns persist.
Whether Lightship's application remains valid in light of its dissolution by the secretary of the commonwealth appears open to interpretation.
Brian McNiff, spokesman for the secretary of the commonwealth, said it's the town's prerogative whether it continues working with Lightship.
But Alexander H. Pyle, a Massachusetts corporate attorney, pointed to the Massachusetts LLC statute, which states "A limited liability company administratively dissolved continues in existence, but shall not carry out any business except that necessary to wind up and liquidate its affairs."
For now, Lightship persists in seeking zoning waivers and variances that would permit the company to build its turbines. Representatives for the company have not responded to emails seeking comment for this story.
Lightship's application, submitted to the ZBA last fall, is being prepped for full public review in a series of ZBA hearings, which could begin early as March 26.
To assist in vetting the technical side of the application, the ZBA has hired Burlington firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson Inc., specialists in noise and vibration control, at the developer's expense.
"Their job is to analyze the special permit application, determine fact from fiction and provide an opinion on the data presented by the proponent," Haupt said.
Residents can expect their questions answered during this multiple-meeting review and the study findings will be public, he said.
Those questions are many.
Opponents long have sought two figures allegedly known to the company: the ambient sound level in Peru and how much Lightship's turbines would exceed it.
A town bylaw allows a maximum of 60 decibels in a 15-minute period at an inhabited structure, with a limit of 40 decibels at 1,000 feet.
In 2011, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center funded a $55,000 feasibility study that was supposed to produce answers to these and many other questions.
Attained by PCC member Kevin Cahill via a public records request, MassCEC's final, 103-page report, which ends by recommending the project, arrived with all noise findings redacted.
"The reason for that, I think, is they could never meet the standard," Cahill said.
He believes that MassCEC is predisposed to siding with turbine developers in pursuit of a Patrick administration goal of 2,000 megawatts of wind capacity by 2020.
PCC further believes developments in Peru are following a familiar pattern, re-enacted many times in places like Florida and New York state.
A big-money wind developer enters a small town, ingratiates itself with board members and gets the permits it wants, despite opposition from near-site residents.
According to Lightship, the wind turbines promise generation of 15 megawatts of energy and annual tax revenue of $150,000 for Peru. The company, meanwhile, would sell power to the grid and collect millions in state, and possibly federal, tax credits.
Haupt sought to assure residents the process would go forward "as transparent as possible."
"We fully understand people's concerns, and they are legitimate concerns," he said. "Some board members live in the vicinity [of the proposed building site]. What we as a board need to do is balance these with an understanding that any economic development project is going to have an impact, and to find out to what degree that impact will affect various neighborhoods."
Of late in the town, a silence on the matter has prevailed.
Peter Shelsy, a ZBA member, said he's received only a few "cryptic" communications about ZBA matters.
"Nobody's talking about anything," Shelsy said. "Given the atmosphere in town, everybody's on tenterhooks concerning the Open Meeting Law."
A ZBA meeting scheduled for Jan. 22 was postponed.
According to Haupt, Lightship delayed the meeting, in accordance with state guidelines.
"From what I understand, the project is still in the process of being modeled and a soup to nuts presentation on all of its aspects being worked on," he said.
Meanwhile, PCC has hired Senie & Associates of Westborough to monitor the permitting process and has penned five volumes of what it calls the Peru Free Press, with plans of spreading the documents around town.
To reach Phil Demers:
or (413) 281-2859.
On Twitter: @BE_PhilD
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