United States

United States

Wind buff battles with zoning board, cape Cod's "persistent bulldog"

In the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts, W. Robert Felix, Jr. wanted to install a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine on his property, but was denied a construction permit by the Wellfleet Zoning Board last year.

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Even in God's own land, the path to energy self sufficiency is strewn with bureaucratic boulders of every shape and size. Knowledge of clean power technology and the desire to use it are not enough on their own, at last not around the Cape Cod area of Massachusetts. It was here that W. Robert Felix, Jr. wanted to install a 10 kW Bergey wind turbine on his property.

Having built an all-solar house back in 1978, Felix was keen to have a go at wind energy too. For some months he worked closely with his son, an economist once employed by the Boston Edison electric utility, to measure and document an ideal site for a wind generator. It was the beginning of a five year saga of public hearings by the local zoning board, which in the early days even included a change of site. But all to no avail. Felix was denied a construction permit by the Wellfleet Zoning Authority (WZA) last year.

His latest move has been to file suit in Barnstable District Court, claiming that the WZA made illegal last minute changes in local zoning laws to deny his right to generate electricity from the wind. "I'm a persistent bull dog," snaps Felix, who admits to great frustration with the local "small minded" powers that be. "We are being stalled by the town solicitor," he charges, pointing out that local officials continually tell him they "are too busy" to produce the documents needed to process his lawsuit. He may turn to a local citizen letter writing campaign to counter the influence of "wealthy absentee neighbours" who claim the machine will create too much of a ruckus. According to Felix, "The sound mix of birds, wind in the trees, buoy horns, surf and wind chimes, will all be louder than our energy system."

He claims that relying on wind power would reduce the need for his current utility -- Commonwealth Electric -- to run the Cape Cod Canal oil-burning plant and the Pilgrim II nuclear reactor. Among the evidence Felix used to support his plans for operating a 10 kW turbine for 20 years, were savings of over 1100 tons of carbon dioxide and nine tons of nitrogen and sulphur dioxides, or the equivalent of removing 8492 automobiles from the road.

Ironically, Grisald Draz, the step-son of a wealthy US newspaper publisher, installed a 2.5 kW Bergey turbine on property overlooking Cape Cod Bay during the same time that Felix was duelling with WZA. Draz, unlike Felix, was successful in his effort since no one opposed the installation.

Draz, who goes by the nickname "Goose" and refers to his plot of soil as "God's Stray Animal Farm," is quite happy with his wind generator and solar photovoltaic panels that generate electricity for a cottage on his idyllic property. "We are misusing our energy sources," says Draz, expressing outrage that the US "had to go to war to secure our access to Middle East oil."

Draz supports the efforts of Felix and other neighbours to install wind turbines. He envisions a community approach to wind turbine development, mentioning a 200 acre plot of land as an ideal site for such a venture. "This community has the potential to make use of the wind and tie local suppliers [of wind generated electricity] into the grid. The whole town's energy needs could be offset by putting clean electricity back into the grid," he says.

The plight of Felix could affect plans by the Massachusetts Audubon Society to install a wind generator in the Wellfleet Bay Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the largest bird protection areas in the US. Robert Prescott, the former director of the local Audubon chapter, acknowledges that these bird watchers were alarmed by the opposition raised against wind power. Yet he promises this chapter of Audubon is "going to pursue" a wind generator installation regardless of the outcome of the Felix case. However, the group is seeking outside funding to help underwrite installations of wind and other alternative energy systems.

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