Opposition to a proposed wind turbine project at Beaver Ridge in Freedom is not dissipating even after a majority of voters decided at the end of August they weren’t interested in holding up the now $12 million electrical generation project to re-examine a newly adopted commercial development review ordinance that would govern local permitting.
With first an informal group of townspeople who are opposed to the project and, just last week, the town itself turning to professional legal help, a planning board hearing scheduled for Thursday of this week promises to be a forum where local passions pro and con could be ignited. The hearing will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the town offices.
The board has until Dec. 6 to act on the application by Portland-based Competitive Energy Services (CES), which wants to erect three 1.5 megawatt turbine units, each mounted on a tower 260 feet high, in a hayfield belonging to local farmer Ron Price. A study of the controversial issue of sound produced by the three 130-foot blades driving each turbine is on the agenda. The board is also expected to consider other new information requested at two previous hearings including historical and archaeological considerations of siting the turbines at Beaver Ridge, information provided to abutters to the property and a copy of the lease agreement between Price and CES.
Last Wednesday, Selectmen Tim Biggs and Lynn Hadyniak responded to a request from planning board member Bill Pickford, voting to make town legal funds available to hire an attorney to represent the board in this matter.
Selectman Steve Bennett recused himself from voting but commented he didn’t believe such use of taxpayer funds was warranted given the fact the town pays dues to Maine Municipal Association (MMA) and is entitled to legal advisory services from the association’s staff attorneys. One of the abutters to the Beaver Ridge site, Bennett is the most prominent individual opposing CES’s plans.
According to Nancy Bailey-Farrar, the planning board chairman, the members agreed to ask the selectmen for funding for an attorney on the advice of attorneys at MMA. Accompanied by a legal stenographer, Bangor attorney Ed Bearor attended on Oct. 5 the first of two planning board hearings held so far on the wind turbine project. Bailey-Farrar said Monday Bearor, who board members understood to be representing Bennett as a private citizen as well as other townspeople opposed to the project, contended certain critical information was missing from the application.
The board determined Sept. 7 that CES’s application was complete. This set the clock running toward a Dec. 6 deadline either to act on the application or make provisions for an extension.
Bailey-Farrar reported Bearor “had a whole bunch of issues,” among them that the land survey for the Price property required amending to indicate important changes and language was needed matching what is already in the new commercial development review ordinance concerning allowance time for the board to consider new information.
It’s unlikely, she indicated, that CES will act further on the project until such time as its application is accepted and the way cleared legally for it to proceed. The company must order the wind turbine components well in advance of construction. Because of the burgeoning demand worldwide it’s generally expected at this point that there will be at least a year of lead time between ordering and delivery from the manufacturers.
Tuesday, Bennett identified the project opponents as a loosely knit group “that’s opposed to this project going forward for one reason or another.” The selectman acknowledged the 79-44 vote at a special town meeting Aug. 31 rejecting his request for a 180-day extendable moratorium. The moratorium was intended to allow time for a commission of townspeople to review and amend alleged deficiencies with respect to wind power development in the commercial development review ordinance adopted at an Aug. 7 special town meeting.
“We wanted to draft a reasonable ordinance and the town voted it down,” Bennett said. “They were happy with it the way it was. We don’t know what we’ll do at this point but I believe we have the right to representation and that’s what we’ve got and we’re moving forward from there.
“We feel our property rights, our personal rights to peace and quiet are all being violated,” he continued. “We have the most lenient ordinance of any municipality in the U.S. today. They’re allowing something 400 feet tall–three of them–with 2-foot tall strobe lights that I understand are white during the day, and red at night blinking 40 times a minute. And they make quite a bit of noise. What effect do you suppose that has on property values?”
Bennett said it doesn’t make any sense that the ordinance doesn’t have adequate provisions for what he called “a fall zone” for the turbine units at the Beaver Ridge site. If one of these towers collapses, he said, it’s inevitable with the 130-foot extension posed by the blades that the debris will come down on other people’s property. He also noted the nacelles mounted atop the towers in which the turbine’s generators are housed amount to “a box of oil in the sky” about 12-feet square and 30 feet long. He said local fire department officials have gone on record that there would be little they could do if one of the turbines caught fire.
Referring to those now supporting the project, Bennett said, “I know in my heart if they lived where we live, they’d see it the way we do. I know these folks. I’ve seen the way they’ve reacted when it’s been something in their neighborhoods. Nobody wants to see their peace and quiet interrupted by whatever it is.
“I’ve been called a NIMBY. I think they’ve got it backwards. The way I understand it a NIMBY doesn’t want it in his back yard but it’s OK in yours. I’m not a NIMBY because I don’t want to see it in your back yard either. I don’t want to see it in anybody’s back yard,” he said.
There are plenty of areas where wind turbines can go, Bennett contends, but Beaver Ridge and indeed much of interior Maine with the exception of the western mountain area are not among them. He suggested critics of his position look at the wind zone maps the U.S. Department of Energy has prepared for the state and consider that almost nowhere in Waldo County do the wind ratings the federal agency recommends for commercial turbine installations rise to an acceptable level. One exception, he noted, is certain portions of the immediate coast not sheltered by outlying islands, but “we don’t want to pick on those poor billionaires.”
Asked why then CES is pursuing a project at Beaver Ridge, Bennett, who is a financial analyst, answered, “Why? In two short words: tax credits. Federal tax credits and tax credits from the state of Massachusetts. It’s a joke but that’s what it’s all about–earning tax credits. And what they can’t use for themselves they can always sell to the highest bidder.”
By Peter Taber