Town councilor on Monday night took a major step toward bringing wind power to Cape Elizabeth, approving an ordinance that would allow windmills on municipal land.
The intent is to build a trial windmill to see just how productive – and disruptive – small scale, “personal” wind turbines could be.
Currently, Cape Elizabeth does not allow wind turbines of any kind, to the considerable irritation of several residents who want to build them.
Councilors say they are fully in support of renewable energy, but they’re concerned that windmills would be loud, disruptive, divisive, and damaging to property values if they were allowed to spring up unregulated.
Also, no one knows just how productive Cape Elizabeth’s coastal winds could be, and whether small-scale wind turbines would be worth the cost of constructing them and the visual disruption and noise they could cause.
Also Monday night, the Town Council made a commitment to allowing the construction of at least some small-scale, personal windmills, scheduling a workshop to draft a personal windmill ordinance for the coming weeks, and expressing a desire to vote on that ordinance at the regular August council meeting.
The ordinance unanimously approved 6-0 (Paul McKenney absent) Monday night will allow the town to build a wind turbine no taller than 100 feet on municipally owned land, possibly at the high school or near town hall, and use the electricity generated to power municipal buildings or operations. Councilors haven’t discussed where the money would come from, who would design and build the “wind energy system,” or other specifics.
Like any other municipal building project, the wind turbine would be subject to site plan review by the Planning Board, a body independent of the Town Council.
Councilor James Rowe, chairman of the Finance Committee and one of the council’s more stubborn fiscal conservatives, said he was initially not thrilled at the idea of windmills in Cape, partly because he had visited Saco’s wind turbines and discovered they make “a considerable amount of noise,” and partly because he was not convinced that small windmills made economic sense.
After several months of reading and researching extensively, he said, he now believes the council needs to get behind wind power.
“My prospective has, frankly, changed,” he said. “I am now also in favor of moving forward in the residential arena, albeit in a cautious manner … (We need to) move forward with residential windmills, but always be sensitive to the peace and quiet of our neighborhoods.”
It will be a complicated task to develop guidelines for wind turbines, however, councilors say. While all seem to agree that there should be minimum lot sizes, property line setbacks, height restrictions and perhaps even decibel-level regulations, council members don’t have the benefit of existing windmills in town – good, bad or ugly – to help shape regulations for future construction.
In past discussions, councilors have said they would prefer to experiment with a municipal wind turbine before drafting regulations for private windmills, but several said the economic climate, research and feedback from residents changed their minds.
“I think we can do this (draft a personal wind turbine ordinance) rather quickly but still do it right,” council Chairwoman Mary Ann Lynch said.
By Meggan Clark
17 July 2008
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