The proposed wind power project on Beaver Ridge received final approval Thursday from the Planning Board. The 5-1 vote set the stage for an expected appeal by neighbors who are opposed to the development.
Although the vote was not unanimous, none of the Planning Board members were actually opposed to the project. While he believes the wind turbines are a good idea, Prentice Grassi said developer Competitive Energy Services of Portland failed to adequately address whether the project would comply with Freedom’s noise standards.
“I’m not opposed to the project, but I’m unsure about some of the assumptions made in the noise study,” said Grassi.
Other board members said the study had demonstrated the turbines could meet the noise standards, however, and the project was given the green light.
“It has been a lot of hard work, and very stressful for all of us,” chairperson Nancy Bailey Farrar said after the meeting. “I feel the planning board has done everything appropriate to the best of our knowledge.”
CES wants to build three, 400-foot wind turbines on Beaver Ridge. According to the company, the turbines would generate enough electricity to power 2,000 Maine households. Construction would begin in spring 2008.
Richard Silkman, a principal in CES, said the citizen board had done well in its review of the $12 million project. “You could see how diligent the planning board was in its debate and discussion,” he said.
The approval is an important milestone, but could be the first of several legal obstacles the project will have to clear. Selectman Steve Bennett, who owns property next to the development, has vowed to appeal the decision.
William Kelly, the Belfast attorney who advised the planning board in the later stages of its review, said the recently adopted Freedom Commercial Development Review Ordinance presented some challenges. The ordinance was hastily drafted and adopted this year to give Freedom a chance to review the specifics of the project.
Kelly said the ordinance mixes review criteria, which guide the planning board’s deliberations, with performance standards, which are enforced by the local code enforcement officer after the project begins. But Kelly said the board had done a good job in reaching its decision.
On Thursday, the planning board continued the laborious process of reviewing whether CES had shown the project met all of the town’s criteria. The process stalled on numerous occasions, as Kelly and the board discussed the language and intent of the ordinance.
Jay Guber, Freedom code enforcement officer, encouraged the board to give flexibility to CES in choosing the equipment that would be installed on site. He used the paper mill built by S.D. Warren near Skowhegan as an example: The company demonstrated it could meet state and local standards with existing technology and equipment, received its permits, and then state regulators and the code enforcement officer monitored construction and the early operation of the facility to ensure all performance standards were being met.
Still, the board spent hours talking about the issue. At one point, as members debated whether the company was obligated to build one of the two turbine models whose performance was assessed in the noise study, an exasperated Silkman said, “If your permit says we have to use either one of those turbines, we will call it quits … we are just not going to be able to get a reasonable price [from the turbine manufacturers] under those conditions.”
In the end, the board found the turbines referred to in the application are “illustrative.” Another model may be erected, so long as the equipment conforms “to the specifications and data presented [by CES], upon which the planning board has based its findings of fact.”
The language satisfied Silkman.
The meeting was punctuated by brief flashes of humor. As the board was considering a section of the ordinance that required it determine that the project site – high atop a windy ridge – is not located in a flood plain, member Bill Pickford exclaimed, “If this is in a floodplain, we have a real problem in Freedom.”
In the next month, Kelly will draft a formal order approving the permit, which the planning board expects to take up in January.
Based in Belfast, Copy Editor Andy Kekacs can be reached at 207-338-0484 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.