Savoy residents rescind wind power bylaw

Nearly one-quarter of Savoy's registered voters turned out Thursday to cast ballots on the future of wind power in the town. They voted 101-22 in favor of removing passages from the town's zoning bylaw that allow commercial wind farms. The change does not affect the pending project by Minuteman Wind, which already holds a permit to install five turbines in the town.

SAVOY — A form of renewable energy residents of Savoy heartily backed in January 2008 got the heave-ho Thursday night.

By a vote of 101-22, residents who crowded into the town fire station deleted Section 9 of Savoy's zoning bylaw, which allows commercial wind power generation, and added language specifically prohibiting it.

The vote does not apply to one pending commercial wind project. If the five turbines planned by Minuteman Wind are erected, they will be the only ones allowed under bylaws revised at Thursday's special town meeting.

What a difference a decade makes.

The outcome is a sharp turnaround from the two-thirds support the Minuteman Wind project won in early 2008.

The vote Thursday followed a roughly half-hour public hearing Wednesday in which opponents of wind power outlined their reasons for putting the question before residents once again. Only one resident Wednesday expressed support for keeping the wind power bylaw.

John Tynan, the Select Board chairman, said Thursday that members of the Planning Board endorsed views expressed Wednesday — and recommended the change.

"We support the removal of it and I think the community does as well," Tynan said before Thursday's vote.

In Savoy, the same elected officials sit on the Select and Planning boards. Along with Tynan, the boards include Russell Clarke and Keith Kupiec.

In all, 123 residents voted — 24 percent of the town's 503 registered voters, according to Town Clerk Brenda Smith. The measure needed two-thirds support to pass.

After two fire trucks were pulled out of the Center Road station, residents took places on folding metal seats and crowded around the edges as the special town meeting was called to order at 6:30 p.m. A motion from the floor combined the two actions proposed in the petition submitted this fall to the Select Board.

"If you want to get rid of the wind bylaw, you need to vote yes," said Sarah Satterthwaite, after rising in the middle of the crowd to speak.

Action moved swiftly to ballot voting overseen by Smith and an elections worker, Margaret Sadlow. Results were read aloud at 7:15 p.m.

"The motion carries," Moderator Erik Krutiak called out, after banging a gavel on a folding table.

That announcement brought celebration in the fire station among those who pushed for the bylaw change. They included Satyena Ananda, who lives near the proposed Minuteman Wind site on West Hill near the Hawley line.

"I think it's a good sign in terms of the town saying 'no wind turbines,' " Ananda said. "We're taking one step at at time, and this was a big step."

Edwin R. Wilk, a supporter of wind power in general and the Minuteman project in particular, was pessimistic before Thursday's vote.

"I think the only people going to show up here are the people who want to get rid of them," he said of turbines.

Permit in hand

Minuteman Wind holds a building permit for a roughly $31 million, 12.5-megawatt project. But its status remains uncertain.

Palmer Capital Corp., the company managing the venture, has said it is reconsidering the project in light of its failure in September to win residents' support to increase the height of the turbines.

Palmer Capital had argued that if it was allowed to boost the turbines' height by 30 feet, it could increase electrical output by 15 to 20 percent. Officials said they needed that change because energy markets have evolved since the bylaw passed in 2008.

Coming off that rebuff to wind power, Savoy residents who stand opposed to commercial wind developments were able to gather signatures from more than one-fifth of the town's registered voters to block any future proposals.

The petition compelled town officials to schedule a public hearing Wednesday before the Planning Board, followed by Thursday's special town meeting.

Salvatore Raciti, one of the Savoy residents who led the petition drive, was pleased by Thursday's outcome. He said, though, he is dismayed by the stress the issue places on rural communities.

"Every town that has wind is ripped in half," he said.

Palmer Capital's request for taller turbines was trounced at the Sept. 27 special town meeting, with 53 residents backing the change and 126 against it. That tally fell far short of the two-thirds majority necessary to pass.

Tynan said Thursday that talks between the town and Palmer Capital on "payments in lieu of taxes," known as PILOT, have stalled. A consultant who had been helping negotiate on the town's behalf with Palmer Capital is no longer working on the project.

Tynan said the town was hoping to secure $220,000 in annual PILOT amounts from Palmer, but said the company had not indicated it was going to support payments anywhere close to that. The sides remained at least $100,000 apart.

"There's nothing going on with the PILOT," Tynan said.

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