A planned wind tower project for a set of mountain ridges in Byron and Roxbury has been left blowing in the wind.
In a remarkably different outcome from the Roxbury town meeting vote on March 3, Byron voters on Monday overwhelmingly defeated changes to the town’s building ordinance that would have left the door open for developers to put up a series of wind towers within the community. The jam-packed schoolhouse was standing room only in the best turnout at a town meeting that Byron has seen in many years.
Citizens were not shy about expressing their opinions on the project and had some heated words for the project developers, Angus King and Rob Gardiner of Independence Wind, LLC of Brunswick, both of whom were in attendance.
Eric Roderick, a resident living near Garland Pond, explained just how unreliable wind power is as an energy source. He noted that he has already taken steps to generate clean energy by using solar panels and a generator at his home.
“All I can tell you from my experience is that wind power won’t produce anything,” he said. He cited studies that showed wind energy as being a less reliable energy source than other alternative energy sources such as solar or hydropower.
“The only reason these things are being pursued is they’re being labled as green. The technology is just obsolete right now. When you need power, it’s just not there.”
He added that coal fired generators would have to be run to turn wind energy into electricity that people could use. Moreover, Roderick noted, much of the power generated would be exported out of Maine.
“And we have to suffer by denigrating our mountain scenery,” he said. The project was proposed for a mountain ridge including Record Hill, Flathead Mountain, Partridge Peak, and Old Turk Mountain.
“We’re being told this is a green project,” said another resident, Bob Bourassa. “Each one of these towers…requires a site, a clear cut on top of a mountain.”
He added that the dirt roads connecting the towers would result in some runoff. “Even with the best engineering design for erosion control, some of that sediment is going to get into Roxbury Pond, into Garland Pond. It doesn’t sound like green power to me.”
There are certain areas in western Maine that have been identified as viable sources for wind power by the Baldacci administration. The Governor has stated that he would like to see 3,000 megawatts of wind power on the grid by 2020. Bourassa noted that 3,000 megawatts would equal roughly 1,500 wind turbines.
“Where are they going to put those?” he asked incredulously. “Roxbury opened the door for wind tower development last week,” he continued, noting that another developer has approached that community expressing an interest in putting wind towers in another location in that town. “If we open the door like they did, we will be looking at wind towers everywhere.”
There were numerous comments and questions about the visual impact, what with Garland Pond and its surrounding residences being located in full view of the proposed site, and the noise the towers would generate. A wind farm situated in Mars Hill has been the source of numerous complaints about noise, and a Mars Hill resident living within a half mile of that particular project, Wendy Todd, gave a description of the disruption that the wind towers have caused.
Turbines, she said, “have affected my family in ways I can’t even go into. I think you’ll be affected greatly. Noise penetrates our home.”
The studies done by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on the Mars Hill project have revealed that it exceeds DEP limits for decibel level. Todd mentioned that the noise levels there have kept people from sleeping at night, and that one neighbor of hers is on medication for depression and three are on sleep aids. All of the homes within hearing distance of the towers were put up before they went in.
“There’s nothing else on earth that sounds like it,” she said. The noise has been described as sounding like anything from one jet to a set of fighter planes flying overhead.
“The thing is, they don’t stay that way. Sound propagates in so many different ways,” said Todd.
When asked about the jobs created by the project, Todd noted that the promise of many permanent high paying jobs never materialized. The mountain ridge upon which the turbines are situated is now closed to the public as well, as the project’s owner, UPC Wind, has noted that it’s an industrial electrical facility and it is not really safe for anyone to be near it.
“We have no intention of closing the land,” said King of the Byron-Roxbury project, adding that the land manager, Wagner Forest Management, has a history of keeping its lands open to the public for multiple recreational uses. The principals in the proposed Independence Wind project had previously gone to Mars Hill and sat in Todd’s living room to listen to the noise from the turbines near her home.
“We’ve tried to site this in a way to avoid problems,” King added.
He tried to appeal to citizens to consider the impact of not approving the project.
“We’re headed into a slow motion catastrophe in this country,” he said, noting that much of the electricity generated is done so using natural gas. “That’s potentially dangerous because of supply and because of cost.”
“Will this project save the planet? No. But we have to start somewhere.” King also pointed out that wind power use is growing worldwide and that Denmark gets between 20 and 30 percent of their energy from wind.
Environmental engineer Nancy O’Toole said that she had studied the Kibby Mountain wind project that the Land Use Regulation Commission recently approved. She noted that wind projects such as Independence Wind’s proposal represented a significant footprint on the land.
“You’re looking at road building construction. These aren’t little roads; these are huge roads. You’re going to have all sorts of heavy loads coming through there.”
“It is going to impact you forever,” she concluded. “It’s a huge decision.”
One resident, Gary Baril, spoke up in favor of the Independence Wind plan.
“This is enough power to take care of 35,000 homes,” he said. “We should get off our dependence on other people. We’ve got to start somewhere.”
Chris Durant, a property owner on Garland Pond, spoke of the covenants that have been placed on property owners there to keep the pond in the most natural state possible. He encouraged townspeople to do their part to protect the pond by voting down the wind towers.
“What about the animals?” asked Albert Deraspe, worried about the wildlife being driven off of the mountain ridge by the construction and subsequent operation of the wind towers. “They (the animals) can’t talk. They don’t have religious rights, nothing.”
Another resident, Roger Boucher, cautioned citizens that the current building ordinance was the only way the town could prevent the wind towers from being put into place. The planning board had offered the town a change in the height restriction that, if approved, would have allowed for wind turbines up to 450 feet high.
Eventually, after nearly two and a half hours of discussion, citizens voted down the article through a show of hands by what diplomatically would be called a convincing margin. When the final result was obvious, applause erupted throughout the room from those opposed to the wind tower project.
by Barry Matulaitis
12 March 2008
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding