PERU – Members of the town Wind Turbine Ordinance Committee and residents gained insight Wednesday night into how state regulations govern wind farms.
They also learned that should they develop an ordinance that’s more restrictive than Maine Department of Environmental Protection permitting rules for such development, if the two compare apples to apples, DEP will apply the stricter regulations when considering a developer’s application.
Currently, there are no wind projects proposed for Peru. Selectmen tasked the Planning Board with creating a committee to investigate the formation of a wind ordinance.
“We have to ask ourselves the question in my mind, do we want to be more restrictive?” Planning Board Chairman Steve Fuller asked in a short meeting of the committee following a question-and-answer session with Jim Cassida.
Cassida is the department’s licensing coordinator for the Division of Land Resource Regulation. He reviewed existing state regulations for both large- and small-scale wind power development.
He said any wind project in Maine requires a DEP permit, for which three basic laws can be applied. These are:
* The Natural Resources Protection Act, which protects ponds, brooks, wetlands, wildlife habitat, etc., on the parcel posed for development.
* The State Stormwater Management Act, which is used anytime a developer is going to create new impervious area, such as roads and foundations.
“Anything that’s stripped, graded and not revegetated, so as you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of that on a wind farm,” Cassida said. “If the development is big enough to have over an acre of that type of area, then at a minimum it requires a storm water permit.”
* And the site location of Development Law.
Cassida said the latter law is triggered by a minimum planned creation of 3 acres of impervious areas, or if a development site encompasses an area of 20 acres or more, like ski resorts.
All small wind developments – anything more than 1 kilovolt of energy – at a minimum in addition to storm water and the resource protection law, require a Small Scale Wind Certification. It only examines three criteria of unique concern to wind power projects: generated sounds, safety setbacks and shadow flicker of turbine blades.
Questions asked concerned setbacks, noise, noncompliant wind farm operators, protecting historical structures, visual impacts, towns adopting wind ordinances because they don’t feel DEP’s regulations are safe enough; threatened, endangered and rare wildlife and plants; and the process for getting the DEP to reconsider an issued permit.
Cassida said DEP setback rules pertain to catastrophic ice events where spinning blades can sometimes throw ice or the possibility of towers falling over.
“Typically, one of the specifications we’ve gotten is one and a half times the maximum turbine height being when the blade is in the upright position above the hub of one of these things,” he said. “This is roughly 625 to 650 feet.”
Cassida also mentioned DEP’s early requirements that were subsequently changed the more they learned about wind farm safety.
“We’re trying to tighten it down so we’re protecting people’s self interests,” he said.
On noise, he said the department is currently revamping its regulations, which were developed in the mid to early 1980s.
Currently, there can be no more than 75 decibels at a property boundary, and within 500 feet of a protected location, no more than 55 decibels during the day and no more than 45 decibels at night.
“It’s the most we can require of any kind of developer,” Cassida said.
A noisy restaurant or television is 70 decibels while 80 decibels is an alarm clock at 2 feet. Sixty decibels is a sewing machine or average street traffic, and 45 decibels, he said, was the meeting’s talk .
Cassida said DEP now requires developers to make demonstrations during the length of the project to determine sound level compliance, which they didn’t do with the Mars Hill project.
In that 2001 project, DEP OK’d a variance to 50 decibels without realizing that it would adversely affect people.
“If I could turn back time, I’d require that we do that differently,” he said.
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