As wind farms sprout in the American Midwest and Maine’s western mountains, citizens of Camden, Hope and Rockport are considering a joint committee to evaluate the energy potential and community response in regard to the wind resource on Ragged Mountain. Across the state and around the world many communities are looking to other towns that have more established wind projects to understand some of the less immediately recognizable impacts of the technology.
Early environmental concerns focused on potential hazards to migratory birds and bats. Once turbines were in operation, other issues rose to the forefront and turbine operators began to recognized sounds that appeared innocuous when first encountered, light flicker, ice throwing, the amount of clearing and road construction required to build and maintain the projects, and a visual disturbance on the horizon as potential issues to address. Concern is growing about what other issues may appear after years of operation.
An a May 13 article in The Martha’s Vineyard Times, reporter Janet Hefler described the process that residents of Maine’s Fox Islands went through to design and gain public support for a community-owned, 4.5-megawatt, three-turbine wind power project on Vinalhaven.
Massachusetts town decides against turbine
In a telephone interview Sept. 8, Hefler said her Massachusetts island community considered a single-turbine power plant near the West Tisbury School, but decided against it after a noise study at three locations near the school proved operating sound levels from that turbine would raise ambient noise in the area above the level allowed in a rural area by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.
“If they were to put it in an urban community where there’s a lot of ambient noise, people could tolerate it better,” Hefler said. She acknowledged that there were compelling reasons to avoid siting wind projects in cities, but said the quiet nature of less populated areas meant that even a 20 to 50 decibel increase would be disturbing where sounds generally stayed below 30 decibels.
Meanwhile, Falmouth, Mass., has begun a two-turbine wind project at that town’s wastewater treatment plant, projected to generate electricity for the plant and other operations for the next 20 years and to provide energy offsets and revenue for the community.
The first phase of that project, a 397-foot, 1.65-megawatt turbine called Wind I, began commercial operation on March 23. The second phase is expected to go online this fall.
According to materials at the town of Falmouth’s Web site, “Wind 1 produces 3.1 to 4.2 million kilowatt hours annually.” With Wind II on line, the turbines will offset electrical energy demands for the wastewater treatment plant and other town facilities through virtual net metering and will meet about 60 percent of town-owned facility energy needs, the literature states.
“People that live on the fringes of it are saying that it really bothers them,” Hefler said.
The Cape Cod town responded to noise complaints by limiting the turbines from operating in wind speeds of more than 22 mph while the unit’s manufacturer reviewed the issue, resuming operation at the original speeds once the study was completed. In June, Falmouth hired acoustical engineering firm Harris Miller Miller & Hanson of Burlington, Mass., to further study the sound and meet with local residents and officials.
Hefler said there were a few individual turbines on local farms, but that as far as any regional projects, “everything’s come to a halt.” Hefler said the Martha’s Vineyard planners and those on nearby Cape Cod were in the process of mapping “districts of critical planning concern” on land and in the near offshore region.
Camden residents worry about possible Ragged Mountain plan
Meanwhile, residents of Camden have been discussing the possibility of a small wind turbine installation atop Ragged Mountain.
At the Sept. 7 meeting of the Camden Select Board, resident Dana Strout described such turbines as being as tall as a 45-story building, or about one-third the height of Ragged Mountain, and said the distinction between what some people call industrial wind projects and what are called community wind projects was one of ownership rather than the size of the project or structures.
Attorney Sue Jones is the coordinator of the Maine Wind Working Group, the state’s arm of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. She said in August that her job was to provide educational outreach on wind in Maine from an objective perspective.
Jones is president of Community Energy Partners, a renewable energy and efficiency consulting company serving municipalities, small businesses and agricultural producers.
According to the Web site at communityenergypartners.com, “Comm·En’s mission is simple: to bring small-scale, locally-owned renewable energy and energy efficiency projects to communities throughout the Northeast.”
Jones said she did not work for the wind industry but was a community wind developer. She said the term community wind meant that a project was at least 51 percent locally owned. Jones is a non-local partner in one such venture, which she said was primarily owned by farmers.
She said that, while she invested in particular wind projects she was able to distinguish that from her duty to provide objective information in Maine.
Fox Islands Wind Director George Baker said Sept. 9 that people used the term community wind to describe a variety of types of projects.
“Industrial wind is a term invented by the anti-wind people to give a nasty sense to these green energy projects,” Baker said. “Wind is used to produce energy that is used for commercial, industrial and residential uses.”
He said commercial wind projects were those developed by for-profit entities and that he defined community wind as those projects that were developed and used by and for the benefit of the people who lived near them.
“People want to call community wind what they want to call it so they can do it,” Baker said. “If two local businessmen get together it’s not necessarily community wind.”
Consultant calls objectivity a ‘hangup’
“It’s hard to work toward an issue unless you believe in it,” Jones said. She said the word objective was a “hangup.”
“[Except] for a small minority, most of the projects have had strong support from their communities through a very open process,” she said.
She said the Beaver Ridge Wind Project in Freedom was one where original detractors came to support a wind development.
Kathy Giurtino of Camden told a different story. At a Sept. 7 Select Board meeting, Giurtino said she traveled to Freedom to see and hear the turbines and that a number of nearby homeowners told her they were opposed to the development.
“What happened in Freedom was a disgrace,” she said.
Camden’s process in regard to wind development was placed on the tables of the Hope and Rockport select boards. On Aug. 17 the Camden Select Board voted unanimously to create the Ragged Mountain Wind Workgroup, and to invite the towns of Hope and Rockport to join that group. If approved by all three towns, the work group would comprise four members from Camden, two from Hope and three from Rockport.
Vinalhaven awaits test results, technical fixes
The results of a Berkeley National Laboratory survey conducted last winter are at the Fox Islands Wind Web site at foxislandswind.com. Baker said new data collection would be done this fall to help Fox Islands Wind understand the conditions under which the noise is most bothersome to the turbines’ neighbors.
“The issue is very divisive,” Baker said. He said that year-round residents of the small island communities found it hard to speak up.
Baker said that turbine manufacturer General Electric was working on some proprietary technology and possible blade treatments that might mitigate the sound issues, but that the company did not respond to his questions about possible changes.
GE is collaborating with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory on data collection and analysis, Baker said.
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