Competitive Energy Services has not given up hope for erecting wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, but neither is the company committed to fighting another round.
Competitive Energy is mulling its options after the board of appeals last week revoked the company’s permit to erect three electricity-generating wind turbines on the ridge. The Portland-based company is considering all of its options, from appealing to Waldo County Superior Court to abandoning the project altogether, said project manager Andy Price.
“Obviously we’re disappointed that the project the town has clearly stated it would like to be built in their town was not allowed to go forward,” Price said. “The appeals board overturned a very carefully considered decision by the planning board.”
The planning board approved the company’s $10 million project to erect the nearly 400-foot turbines in December. Steve Bennett, and others who own property abutting the project site, took the matter to the Board of Appeals, which determined the project would not meet the town’s sound ordinance. The board also determined the planning board failed to require Competitive Energy to post a decommissioning bond required by the ordinance.
Competitive Energy has 30 days from Thursday, when the appeals board members are expected to formally sign the decision, to appeal to Superior Court.
The company also could modify the project, using quieter turbines, and re-apply to the planning board for a permit, Price said. A scaled-down project, a different site or additional sites are also possibilities.
“We haven’t made any determination about how we’ll proceed. This is an important project for us, and we want to make the right decision,” Price said. “We’ll have to make the decision on whether to take it to Superior Court within 30 days, but other than that we’re not going to put any time restraint on it.”
While lauding the appeals board’s effort and dedication, Price took issue with the board’s findings, particularly those related to sound. The Planning Board determined the turbines would not exceed the 45-decibel limit set in the town’s noise ordinance based on a study conducted by scientist Anthony Rogers, who has published volumes on turbine noise.
But Rogers, who never visited the Beaver Ridge site, based his findings on ambient, or background, noise levels of 31 and 35 decibels, Addison Chase, chairman of the board of appeals, noted after last week’s ruling. Bennett’s appeal included 10 studies conducted in other rural parts of the country that determined the average ambient level is actually between 40 and 50 decibels. Bennett’s own studies concluded the ambient noise levels around Beaver Ridge hovered in the 40-decibel range.
“By using a more reasonable ambient sound level, the projected sound level would not meet the required ordinance,” Chase said.
Much of the evidence cited by Bennett and his attorney, Ed Bearor, was anecdotal, Price said, yet the board gave it the same weight as Rogers’ professional study.
“I think that was an error on their part,” Price said.
He also questions the appeals board’s interpretation of the decommissioning bond, which would require Competitive Energy to post a bond to be saved to tear down the turbines when they are no longer useful.
“There’s probably not a building in the state of Maine that has a decommissioning bond posted in advance,” Price said.
Competitive Energy, which helped the town craft the commercial development ordinance that ultimately led the project’s rejection, would be willing to help the town write a less restrictive ordinance, Price said.
“Any changes or anything to do with the ordinance, it’s the town that passes those things,” he said.
“There’s a limited amount we can do in that regard. People may decide it was a real missed opportunity. The ordinance as written is extremely restrictive of any industrial activity. I think it will be very hard for any other project to move forward in Freedom,” Price said.
Competitive Energy has promised to abandon the project if residents object, but two non-binding votes last year overwhelmingly favored the turbines.
The company has worked with the town, pulling back its original application to allow the town to develop a commercial development ordinance, and has received tremendous support from the community, Price said. The decision by the board of appeals does nothing to change that, he said.
“It was a decision by three people that we didn’t meet two items in the ordinance that was, I think, passed by the town because they thought it would go forward,” Price said. “We’ve said we don’t want to be in a town that doesn’t want us and we don’t want to do a project the town doesn’t want. No, I don’t think the decision reflects what the town as a whole would like to see.”
By Craig Crosby
Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
14 March 2007
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