PHILLIPS – Voters approved a new wind power ordinance at a special town meeting Thursday evening, seeking to regulate the placement of turbines near residences.
The ordinance, titled “Wind Energy Facility Ordinance,” includes several months of research and work by the town’s planning board, who sought expert opinions on a variety of issues revolving around wind power development, including environmental, visual and acoustic impact.
“We believe it covers the complete range of equipment in use,” Planning Board Chair Kenneth Ziglar said, “from personal to a multi-kilowatt generator.”
The ordinance includes a series of acoustic formulas, designed to regulate how far a turbine, making noise of a certain volume, can be placed near another resident’s property line. The formula, which planning board members noted was “conservative,” includes modifiers for atmospheric variation, errors in measurement and the number of turbines. The formula, which was developed by Robert Rand, an acoustic engineer, yields setbacks of 211 feet, for an extremely quiet turbine at 70 decibels, to setbacks of 37,584 feet, for a turbine operating at 115 decibels.
The formula is designed to prevent a resident from being exposed to constant, low frequency sounds of 30 decibels or higher which, the planning board said their research into the subject indicates, can cause sleep deprivation in some people. In addition to the formula, there are maximum acoustic cutoffs of 30 decibels at property lines and structures, as a back up.
Due to the size of Phillips, a multi-turbine project operating at an industrial level would effectively require waivers from a large percentage of residents. Some at the meeting noted that the ordinance would likely prevent any such project’s developer from choosing Phillips.
“You’re being overly conservative,” one resident said.
Ziglar and other planning board members agreed that a large-scale project would be a difficult fit in Phillips under the new ordinance. However, they pointed to sound as the most significant limiting factor, noting that smaller turbines, or next generation turbines that produce less noise, still could have a place in town.
“We would like industrial developments of any kind, although this ordinance deals with wind power,” Planning Board member Dain Trafton said, “to come here the right way.”
The ordinance also includes environmental requirements, a process for developers to follow and a process in which property owners can waive acoustic-related setbacks through a covenant between both owners and the town.
The final vote on the ordinance was 32 to 9, in favor of its passage. It ends a six-month moratorium on wind power projects in Phillips, enacted earlier this year to give the board time to develop the ordinance.
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