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Wind tower proposal on table in Addison

Bonnie Thompson said she wasn’t optimistic when she applied last fall to erect an 80-foot wind tower on her property in Addison.

Town ordinances in this coastal Washington County community only allow structures shorter than 50 feet, or 35 feet if the property falls within the designated shoreland zone near the Pleasant River.

But Thompson said she felt that the debate over alternative energy sources such as wind power was one worth having, even in her small town. So, after failing twice to get a variance from the town’s planning board, Thompson explored the process of amending the municipal height ordinance to allow taller towers.

Thanks in large part to her tenacity on the issue, the Addison Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Wednesday to put the question out to voters.

“At least it will go to the voters. That’s all I wanted,” Thompson said Thursday. “If the townspeople vote it down, they won’t hear from me again.”

John Woodward, town treasurer and administrative assistant to the Board of Selectmen, said Thursday the town would begin reviewing Thompson’s proposed ordinance amendment. The process will conclude with a vote at a special town meeting, likely sometime this summer.

“We’ll take a look at what she’s written and obviously we would schedule a public hearing before any vote,” Woodward said.

Thompson’s proposal would amend Addison’s building ordinance to allow residential wind towers up to 100 feet to be installed. The amendment would only apply to towers, Woodward said.

Generally, single residential wind towers or turbines are shorter than 50 feet, but Thompson said that simply wouldn’t be enough.

“I’m happy to put up a 50-foot tower if I could. It would certainly cost less,” she said. “But the efficiency of a wind tower is determined to some degree by its height. In order to be efficient, it has to be significantly higher than the trees, and there are trees on my property that are 40 feet.”

Commercial wind turbines often are taller, but the town has not yet been approached for that type of use.

“I don’t know that we’ll get an abundance of applications for residential wind towers, but most townspeople seem to agree that it’s good for the town to explore alternative energy options,” Roger Yochelson, the town’s planning board chairman, said. “If we do get some interest commercially, of course we’ll sit down again and discuss it.”

As it stands now, if a resident applies to install a tower, the town’s code enforcement officer still needs to inspect the site.

“A lot of towns feel that if folks have a piece of land and are doing something within what codes allow, we let them be, especially Down East,” Yochelson said. “Most people involved in the discussion felt [wind towers] were a good idea.”

More and more residents across the state are exploring single wind towers as an option for alternative energy. The city of Ellsworth has seen a handful of wind towers installed recently. All are shorter than 50 feet to comply with Ellsworth’s height restrictions.

Single towers range from $10,000 to $15,000, but tax breaks are available. The energy produced does not go directly to the homeowner, but instead becomes part of the power company’s grid and the turbine owner is compensated for the energy produced.

By Eric Russell

Bangor Daily News

11 April 2008