Six-month ban on wind projects proposed
By Peter Taber
(Created: Wednesday, August 30, 2006 10:48 AM EDT)
Diagonally across from the Freedom Post Office at the corner of Pleasant Street and Route 137, a large sign this week urges passersby to “Support Wind Power.” Accompanying that message are the words “No Moratorium.” Selectman Tim Biggs, who recently found himself in the minority when his two fellow board members voted to schedule a special town meeting for Thursday of this week to consider a six-month moratorium on commercial wind power generation in Freedom, marvels at the depth of feeling the matter has provoked.
“This is the first political sign I’ve ever seen in Freedom about a local issue,” he says.
Thursday’s town meeting will begin at 7 p.m. at the Dirigo Grange Hall.
The selectmen’s 2-1 vote last Wednesday evening caught many by surprise, coming as it did just two weeks and two days after a large turnout of townspeople for what was already the second special meeting of the year voted overwhelmingly to adopt a 48-page commercial development review ordinance. Included in what amounted to a standard site plan review ordinance was a section setting standards for commercial wind power development.
About 18 months ago, Portland-based Competitive Energy Services LLC (CES) set up an anemometer in a wind-swept hayfield belonging to local farmer Ron Price atop Beaver Ridge. On March 1, CES executive Andrew Price, who is Ron Price’s nephew and grew up a few miles away in Montville, confirmed speculation when he came to Jay Guber, the town code enforcement officer, seeking a building permit to erect three wind turbines in the field. Each of the towers, he said, would top out at 260 feet with a self-contained generator unit enclosed in a nacelle housing and blades extending out another 130 feet.
The idea of Freedom becoming one of only a handful of communities in New England with a commercial facility generating power from the wind provoked mixed feelings but on the whole the reaction was positive. At a special town meeting at the end of May a straw poll showed a two-to-one margin of Freedom citizens favoring the CES project. That same month, Heidi and Read Brugger, whose home is located a short distance upwind from Beaver Ridge, circulated a petition in support of the proposed development and it was signed by nearly a third of the town’s approximately 650 residents.
Many like the Bruggers adopted the position of thinking globally and acting locally when it came to addressing the world’s environmental problems through replacement of fossil fuels with a renewable energy source. Many of these same people also wished to support local farmers and viewed a wind facility as an ideal way to keep agricultural land from being sold for residential and retail development. And the prospect of the proposed $10 million wind energy development increasing the town’s tax base by about 30 percent was certainly something no one was going to complain about.
But from the start there were doubters, including Selectman Steve Bennett who expressed reservations about rushing into embracing such a new technology without careful consideration of the possible problems it might also bring.
At the time, the only potential restriction the town might have brought to bear on this development was a minimum 25-foot setback requirement contained in an eight-page building permit ordinance drafted some 20 years earlier. After Guber referred the matter to the planning board, which was then involved with assistance from the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments in drawing up its future commercial development review ordinance, CES agreed not to insist upon having a building permit right away. According to Andrew Price, CES had no wish to come into a community unless it had widespread support.
On the advice of the board, the company said it would wait until July after the ordinance draft was completed and approved by the voters. Later, this was amended to August. On Aug. 7, townspeople adopted the ordinance.
Monday, Read Brugger questioned the action taken last week by Bennett and fellow selectman Lynn Hadyiak in seeking a special town meeting to consider a moratorium so soon after voters approved the commercial development review ordinance. Noting that both selectmen live within a half mile of Beaver Ridge, he commented, “I don’t think it’s unreasonable to ask, how conflicted are these people?”
“They feel those who live close to [the site] haven’t been properly heard from by the planning board,” he continued. “I don’t agree. The key to the whole thing is there is a process that has gone on for months and it does work. I want to see the process we have in place have a chance to work and I feel this is very much usurping a process that didn’t need to be overthrown. Let it continue to work. Don’t impose something else on it.”
Planning board chairman Bill Pickford agreed Monday with Brugger, saying, “This is an unnecessary roadblock and I don’t think it will win. I’m surprised at the selectmen putting forth this moratorium. It seems like the town has spoken a number of times.” Referring to Bennett, he added, “I really think he should recuse himself.”
Pickford also expressed concern should the moratorium in fact be adopted. “According to KVCOG,” he said, “a moratorium is a really big deal. If it’s not done right it can open up the town to lawsuits.”
Monday, Bennett volunteered he was among those who voted Aug. 7 for the new ordinance. But, he went on to explain, that vote hardly indicated his or many other people’s support for either the ordinance as written or for the wind power project. “The ordinance was pretty much written to CES’s wishes,” he claimed. “CES wrote a letter to CEO just prior to the vote. If [the ordinance] passed, they said they would like an application to go to the planning board the next day. If it didn’t, they wanted it to be considered by our CEO [according to the building permit ordinance] and basically approved the very next day.
“So people going to the meeting had two alternatives: vote for an ordinance which in my mind was flawed or vote against it and take a chance. That’s why I, and many people in town, decided to vote for a flawed ordinance rather than no ordinance at all. It was vote for the ordinance or have the CEO sign the permit the next day. How is that a choice?
“Nobody’s going to put up any windmills this fall or winter,” he continued. “I don’t know what the rush is and there are many issues that need to be considered.” Among these, Bennett said the planning board never called in experts with experience with wind turbines to review the ordinance. Aside from Hadyiak, who is a lawyer, he said no other professional legal review was involved. He also discussed what he feels are serious potential problems with setback requirements, with no requirement that a survey be conducted, and with what he said is contradictory language concerning the appeals process and ambiguous language giving seven planning board members capricious authority to decide what standards they may choose to waive.
“This moratorium would give us an opportunity to breathe and apply some common sense,” Bennett said. “Even if you’re in love with turbines, why would you want to give any group of people, the planning board or the selectmen, the right to say these are the rules but we’re going to waive them?”
Monday, Biggs, the dissenting selectman on the town meeting vote, said, “My position on the whole thing is the town voted on this already. [Bennett and Hadyniak] want it aired again. I felt a little bit hesitant about spending the money for the mailing [of town meeting warrants to all voters]. That was a couple of hundred dollars. But we’ll see what happens. Let the people speak again.”
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