Installation unlikely to begin before spring 2008 even if approved quickly
A proposed three-turbine wind power project at Beaver Ridge in Freedom is ready to move onto substantive review by town planning board members following board confirmation earlier this month that the application submitted at that time by Portland-based Competitive Energy Services (CES) is complete and in order. That vote followed a special town meeting the previous week that rejected a proposed moratorium and allowed consideration of the project under the town’s new commercial development review ordinance to move forward.
According to CES partner Andy Price, the Oct. 7 meeting was basically an opportunity for the planning board members to look at CES’s application “and determine its completeness without reflecting on the content.” Each of the seven board members received a copy of the application to take home and review between now and Oct. 5 when the board next meets in regular session.
“At that time, I’m sure they’ll ask us questions,” Price said Friday. He plans to be there to represent CES. “At that time,” he added, “they’ll decide if they need more time to review the application or they won’t.”
Price confirmed information in the company’s application acknowledging that even if the board decides next month to grant CES the permit under the town’s newly enacted commercial development review ordinance, it’s unlikely wind turbine towers will begin rising over Beaver Ridge before spring 2008. Such is the burgeoning demand now for this latest generation of wind power equipment–turbines with long, slow-moving blades atop steel towers typically around the height of a 25-story building–that manufacturers in Europe and North America are requiring unusually long lead times in filling their orders.
A contributory factor to the long lead time, Price said, is turbine manufacturers “have historically been subject to boom and bust cycles so they’ve been relatively cautious about expanding their production capabilities. Currently, we’re in a situation where a lot of people have been ordering turbines–which is a positive thing.”
There are about 60,000 commercial scale wind turbines in operation about the world. A 28-turbine wind farm currently under construction at Mars Hill in Aroostook County will be New England’s largest in terms of units when it’s due for completion in late fall, but there are already farms in New York State and in the West that dwarf this project by three and four times.
CES’s project, which is limited by land space and local power line capabilities to the three turbines listed on the application, is typical of the “community-sized” projects found most frequently in Europe. Price said he and his partners hope the project at Beaver Ridge will serve as a model for the state, by its success and growing public acceptance encouraging other entrepreneurs to build similar projects.
At this point, CES has not picked out a manufacturer although company representatives have been in contact with several prospective suppliers.
“And we really can’t even place the order until we get our permit,” Price said. “Ideally, we would get it in October. Our hope is we get it sometime this fall.”
The CES partner emphasized the company has attempted from the beginning to engage in a cooperative relationship with townspeople. “We’ve told them on several occasions that ultimately we don’t want to do this project if they don’t want it,” he said. “We’ve consistently allowed them time to put together the ordinance that would govern this and to take what time they need.”
Considering the degree of local citizen support CES has, in fact, received, Price indicated his hope the planning board members will do what they can to expedite the process and issue the permit this fall.
He cited three occasions when, he said, a strong majority of townspeople demonstrated they’d like to see CES’s project go forward. The first time came in early May when a petition conducted by property owners abutting Beaver Ridge gained signatures from one in three Freedom residents.
In early August, an overwhelming margin at a special town meeting voted to adopt the commercial development review ordinance, which includes wind turbine project standards and supplanted a two-decade-old building ordinance that didn’t address such projects. However, some project opponents have said they joined with project proponents in voting for the new ordinance because they felt they had no choice and without it CES would have applied for a permit the next day under an existing building ordinance they judged to be even more inadequate.
Finally, CES is taking heart from an approximately 2-to-1 vote at a special town meeting Aug. 31 that rejected a 180-day moratorium on wind power development proposed by two of Freedom’s three selectmen.
Price attributes what opposition there is in Freedom to the Beaver Ridge project to two factors, a well-placed and vocal opposition and the fact this is a new and unfamiliar technology.
“I think the opposition has done a fairly good job at seeming larger than it is,” he said, adding some of the opponents have successfully raised doubts about the safety and nuisance factors associated with wind turbines. In fact, he maintained, there is little to support what he indicated are scare stories about burning and collapsing towers and a throbbing hum from the rotating blades that carries long distances and drives down property values. In fact, he said, with 60,000 turbines in operation worldwide there has been only one recorded fatality associated with them and that involved a wayward skydiver.
“I think it’s a fairly small camp of people who have been fairly vocal in spreading this kind of [misinformation],” Price said. “Also, there aren’t a lot of places right now to go see them so they’re unfamiliar to people. I hope Beaver Ridge can be a model so people can see that not every wind project has to be the size of Mars Hall, that we can have a community-sized project like this one that’s common in Europe with three turbines or even just one or two.”
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