Savoy considers removing wind power welcome mat

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SAVOY — One of the first Berkshires towns to allow wind power is poised to prohibit it — before any blades turn.

The turnabout would not affect Minuteman Wind LLC's permit for a $31 million, five-turbine project on West Hill near the Hawley line.

But the status of that venture remains unclear after a September setback.

Meantime, a petition signed by more than one-fifth of Savoy's registered voters will trigger back-to-back meetings this month.

The first, Dec. 20, will convene a public hearing on a proposal that the town delete Section 9 of its zoning bylaw, which spells out terms of wind power generation, and add language prohibiting it.

The second, Dec. 21, will ask residents to decide on those changes. Both sessions will start at 6:30 p.m. in the town's 17 Center Road fire station.

Savoy's wind power bylaw was approved a decade ago, before construction of the nearby Hoosac Wind project in Monroe and Florida.

For years, Minuteman Wind's venture percolated along out of sight, as it faced environmental reviews and delays.

With final approval in hand from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, plans for the 12.5-megawatt installation resurfaced in late 2016, with Palmer Capital Corp. managing it.

In an effort to increase the 425-foot height of its turbines, Minuteman Wind proposed a bylaw change to residents at a special town meeting this fall, only to be soundly rebuffed.

The company said that by increasing the height 30 feet, it could boost electrical output 15 to 20 percent and be in a position to pay more to the town.

Residents said no. Just 53 people backed the change, with 126 against, well short of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass. The Sept. 27 meeting was preceded by a contentious public hearing.

In 2008, two-thirds of residents backed creation of the wind power bylaw, many enticed by promises of new municipal revenues.

Views on wind power in Savoy had changed since 2008, said Salvatore Raciti of Brier Road.

"I think it was largely an economic vote," he said of the earlier approval.

After the September meeting, Raciti and others shaped a plan to prohibit future wind power projects. They fanned out through town and gathered 119 signatures of registered voters on 18 petitions, obtaining about half the names in two Saturday visits to the transfer station.

"They braved the dump on Saturday and Wednesday night," Raciti said of the petition group.

The town has 501 registered voters, according to Town Clerk Brenda Smith. One person signed twice and four people who signed are not registered to vote.

John Tynan, the Select Board chairman, said the petition movement picked up on dismay generated in the fall public hearing.

He said petitioners will speak at the Dec. 20 hearing. The Planning Board will then discuss the issue and make a recommendation in time for the next day's special town meeting.

"We listen to the residents. If that's how they feel, we go the same way," said Tynan, who also serves on the Planning Board, along with fellow Select Board members Russell Clarke and Keith Kupiec.

"That's the same way it was 10 years ago, when they seemed to want it," he said of residents' views of wind power.

Lindsay Deane-Mayer, Palmer Capital's project manager, could not be reached for comment Tuesday on where the Minuteman Wind project stands.

She told The Eagle in October that failure to secure the bylaw change changed fundamentals of the project and that a decision might not be made until 2018.

"It's a big puzzle, and all the pieces have to come together," she said at the time. "Everything was coming together. Now, it's spreading apart."

Tynan said the town has not heard from Minuteman. Negotiations over payments in lieu of taxes from the project remain sidelined.

Raciti said that if Minuteman Wind opts to pursue its project, the change now proposed would stop other wind power development.

"It basically closes the door behind them," Raciti said of Minuteman Wind.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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