Sleek windmills may someday turn in the skies over Cape Elizabeth, powering town buildings and lessening the dependence on foreign oil.
But Town Council members are in no hurry to see them looming over historic Fort Williams Park, or making the decidedly unpalatable noise Town Manager Michael McGovern describes as emanating from Saco’s downtown wind turbine.
Councilors had their first look at a new proposed town windmill ordinance Monday night, and, although they said they support the concept, they were concerned the language in the ordinance wasn’t specific enough to limit windmills only to town property and only to appropriate areas.
Councilors voted 6-0 to refer the document back to the Ordinance Committee for fine-tuning.
Councilors unanimously spoke in favor of the plan, which dates back to last year, when resident Warren Roos approached the town about building a personal windmill on his land.
The town Planning Board drafted an ordinance in December that would have allowed windmills on private property, but Town Council members felt it would be a better idea to start with one windmill on town-owned property so, as Councilor Sara Lennon put it, “the citizens of Cape could get a feel for it.
“…We were extremely interested but a little nervous about letting people put up windmills all over town,” she said.
Since then, the town Alternative Energy Committee has been intensively researching options for building a windmill on town property, as well as other ways to make town buildings and vehicles greener and more efficient.
While Town Council members said they support the proposed ordinance in theory, they were concerned that it didn’t spell out clearly enough where windmills could be constructed.
After spending some time stuck in traffic under Saco’s 100-foot downtown windmill, which he described as quite noisy, Town Manager Michael McGovern agreed that the ordinance should be a little more specific.
“It is the ugliest … It certainly is not compatible with Fort Williams Park,” he said. He said he generally does not comment on proposed zoning ordinances.
“It is true that it is extremely loud,” Lennon admitted.
But, she added, “We don’t have to approve a 100-foot windmill,” she said. “(The proposed ordinance) doesn’t mean we have to have Saco’s windmill in front of the IGA.”
Town Council members said they remain committed to the windmill concept. Chairwoman Mary Ann Lynch said she believes a developer would be willing to invest in a windmill on town-owned property if it were found to be economically feasible.
And council members said they would keep an open mind to the variety of windmills there are out there. A 35-foot windmill, said Councilor James Rowe, would be no louder than a vacuum cleaner.
“I think it is very important to be open-minded and not to try to garner all the details up front,” Councilor Paul McKenney said. “Keep in mind the goal. The goal is to reduce our reliance on foreign oil. There’s always going to be a reason why we can’t do it … Let’s keep an open mind.”
Lennon said the Alternative Energy Committee has been meeting with town department heads and alternative energy experts, and looking into a variety of ways the town can become an environmental leader, from making buildings more energy efficient to using environmentally friendly fuels in town vehicles to tapping wind or tidal energy.
“Essentially, the goal is at the end of the year to submit a comprehensive report to the town,” she said. The report would outline short-term and long-term investments that would save money and make Cape greener, a roadmap for a “gradual movement away” from fossil fuels over the next decade.
If the council had approved of the wording of the ordinance, a public hearing would have been scheduled for the next council meeting on April 14. It is unclear when the council will again consider the ordinance, now that it has been sent back to the Ordinance Committee for revision.
By Meggan Clark
6 March 2008
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