SUMNER — A moratorium on wind farms in Sumner was convincingly approved by a margin of 81 to nine at a special town meeting Tuesday night.
A significant crowd filled the seats and spilled out the doors of the fire station as residents had their say on a proposed 180-day ban on the construction of wind turbines for commercial use.
“The bottom line is, if we don’t have an ordinance, then developers can do whatever they want because state law is extremely weak on this,” said Planning Board member Jeff Pfeiffer.
The voters ultimately came down decisively in favor of preventing development for 180 days, during which time a Wind Power Committee made up of Planning Board members and other residents appointed by the selectmen will design an ordinance to regulate any future development.
Many of the most vocal attendees were completely opposed to commercial wind farms.
Ted Dawicki was concerned that any ordinance would pave the way for future large-scale wind-energy.
“After 181 days they’re just going to sneak this in,” said Dawicki.
Richard Pothier, owner of Mountain View Farm, said that he would like to see a ban on industrial wind farms, and encouragement by the town of small-scale, private wind energy for residents.
Others pointed out that the moratorium could serve as a way to use the democratic process to possibly make Sumner an unattractive location for wind-energy companies.
“The solution for the people who don’t want wind power is to pass the [moratorium] and nothing can be done, then work with the committee and voice your opinion, convince the committee to have a very, very restrictive ordinance,” said Steve McGinty.
“This is a company from out of state and they’re going to tell us what they’re going to do unless we have an ordinance,” said Lana Pratt. “Whether you’re for wind power or against it … we have to have an ordinance to get the best deal possible.”
Pfeiffer said that, in discussions with the Maine Municipal Association, the Planning Board had learned that an outright ban on wind farms was illegal, but that an ordinance could determine how likely it would be for a wind company to choose Sumner.
“I don’t think we can make an ordinance that will absolutely prohibit it, but a town can draw up an ordinance that is very restrictive or one that is very permissive,” said Pfeiffer. “…Sumner would be a lot less attractive to wind power developers if we have a wind power moratorium.”
Some residents wondered why previous votes against wind-power related proposals had not rendered a moratorium unnecessary. Moderator Bill Glass pointed out that those votes had dealt only with specific proposals, and failing to set up rules for future wind farm proposals could result in a “Groundhog Day scenario,” in which Sumner was “constantly dealing with wind power.”
“If there’s an ordinance in place that says these are the rules for the development of wind power or anything else, then those are the ground rules that everybody knows that they have to follow,” said Glass.
The purpose of the moratorium, said Planning Board members, is to give the town a chance to draft a wind-power ordinance. It can end before 180 days if the process is completed early, or be extended by selectmen if more discussion is needed after the moratorium ends. Once completed, any proposed ordinance would have to pass a vote of the town before going into effect.