FREEDOM – Diane Winn doesn’t dispute the need for clean, renewable energy – the kind provided by wind turbines and hydroelectric dams.
But Winn and Marc Payne, her partner at Avian Haven Wild Bird Rehabilitation Center, are all about saving injured or abandoned wild birds.
Wind turbines provide clean energy, but birds often die when they fly into turbines, and the noise the machines make can disrupt bird and human alike.
For those reasons, Winn and Payne say they would close their North Palermo Road facility if Beaver Ridge Wind, an affiliate of Competitive Energy Service, builds three electricity-generating wind turbines on nearby Beaver Ridge.
“No one argues with the basic fact that turbines kill birds,” Winn said. “The only issue is how many are killed, and whether those numbers impact species populations.”
Despite a potential loss of birds, Freedom would benefit by the wind towers: The town and its residents get tax dollars to use from CES having its turbines there.
First Selectwoman Carol Richardson said Friday she does not yet know the tax amount, because the Beaver Ridge Wind property – sold to the company by Ron and Susan Price – has not been assessed yet. An outside assessor will value the property in April, based on what’s built on the property, Richardson said.
The town’s tax rate is $20.40 per $1,000 in assessed property value.
Nevertheless, Freedom residents have chance to decide in a June 10 referendum whether they want to reinstate a commercial-development review ordinance that might halt Competitive Energy’s plans.
The battle over Freedom’s skyways is in one way like the effort to save the Fort Halifax dam in Winslow: The difference of opinion pits some environmentalists against each other in ongoing discussions about ecology and energy and how wildlife travels past people.
But Winn’s concerns are not confined to birds. People living within a mile or so from industrial turbines have reported dizziness, ringing in the ears, problems concentrating and sleep disruption from the noise, she said.
She cites the turbines at Mars Hill, in Aroostook County, as an example. A 28-turbine wind farm, the largest built in New England at the time, began operating there in December 2006.
Since then, Winn said, Mars Hill residents have complained about noise emanating for the turbines.
“The noise at Mars Hill came as a big surprise to everybody,” Winn said. The turbines “need to be properly sited,” Winn said. “That’s the lesson from Mars Hill.”
The town has issued Beaver Ridge Wind, a subsidiary of Competitive Energy, a building permit to construct three, 400-foot, electricity-generating turbines. The company has ongoing plans to complete construction by late summer or early autumn.
Andrew Price, project manager for Beaver Ridge Wind, said the company’s turbines are capable, at peak output, of providing 4.5 megawatts of electricity. That would power about 2,000 homes, he said.
Price referred to a recent state task force that called for 2,000 megawatts – or 20 percent – of electricity to originate from wind turbines.
“Everybody is starting to wish we had paid a little more attention to (wind power) a few years ago,” Price said. “Carbon emissions are a problem. And we’re getting more and more of our oil from overseas. People are paying $4 a gallon for gas and nearly $5 a gallon for diesel.”
Location is the issue. Typically, Price said, it’s a matter of “not in my back yard.” People don’t want to know where there power or food come from, or where their garbage goes. There is no disadvantage or advantage from locating turbines in remote areas, he said.
Residents rescinded the commercial-development review ordinance during a special town meeting last year.
“A vast majority of Freedom residents have given us their support,” Price said. “We urge people to reject the ordinance, just like they did a year ago.”
Price said Beaver Ridge Wind hopes to proceed with construction, regardless of the June 10 result, because the ordinance vote is not directly tied to the wind farm. The company holds a valid building permit, he said.
Regarding bird safety, Price contends modern wind turbines pose much less of a hazard.
“Modern turbines are different,” he said. “Before, there was small blades that spun quickly, and birds perched on them. Modern turbines are steel towers with no place to perch. The longer blades move slower.”
Beaver Ridge Wind would sell its power to a private company, probably based on a contract of 10 years or more, Price said. Beaver Ridge would pay local taxes according to the town’s mill rate.
The company has spent more than $6 million to order the turbines and other equipment, conduct studies and hire a general contractor and designers.
Maine Audubon has taken stands on larger wind-power projects – the group opposed the Black Nubble Mountain turbines, but approved the Kibby Mountain project in Franklin County – but it doesn’t yet have an official opinion on the situation in Freedom.
“Audubon is interested in populations, or species,” she said. “They get involved in projects that require state reviews. This one is more about individual birds.”
Winn and Payne hope their neighbors will vote to reinstate the ordinance. Town attorney William Kelly has said that such a move would put the project in jeopardy.
Winn says that, on a typical summer day, Avian Haven might admit 20 injured or orphaned birds, and take 50 or more phone calls. Birds living in outdoors cages would have no escape from the din of the wind turbines, she said.
Winn said if wind turbines are built close to Avian Haven, she and Payne would not feel comfortable releasing juvenile birds. “Releasing them elsewhere would also reduce their chances of survival,” she said. “They’d suddenly find themselves in an unfamiliar environment without the backup support we provide in lieu of that normally provided by parents. We’ve reluctantly and sadly come to the conclusion that Avian Haven could not coexist with them without sacrificing our high standard of care.
By Larry Grard
31 May 2008
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