Unity – Drawing a clear distinction between industrial-scale wind energy installations and smaller turbines, Unity residents enacted different sets of regulations for the two types of turbines during their annual town meeting Saturday, March 26.
The town’s new wind turbine generator ordinance covers turbines taller than 150 feet in height, and with a nameplate generating capacity of 100 kilowatts or more. That ordinance consists of 39 pages of definitions, standards and other requirements.
Turbines up to 150 feet tall, and with a nameplate generating capacity of 100 kW or less, are now covered by a one-page addition to the town’s land use ordinance.
John Piotti, chairman of the town’s Comprehensive Plan Committee, described why there were two sets of regulations being presented to voters.
“The committee decided that rather than have one ordinance that addresses all types of turbines, we would, as an alternative, come up with a simple, one-pager for any turbine an individual might want to put up,” he said.
Unity residents first enacted a moratorium on large wind energy projects at a special town meeting in summer 2010, Piotti explained.
“No one was knocking on our door, but people wanted to get out in front of it,” he said.
That moratorium was renewed once by selectmen, in order for the proposed regulations to be finished prior to Saturday’s meeting.
Piotti described the 39-page ordinance dealing with larger turbines as “fairly restrictive,” but said committee members had made a decision to err on the side of protecting current property owners.
The ordinance establishes a setback of one mile from any large-turbine installation. Piotti explained the ordinance makes a provision for anyone who doesn’t object to living within a mile of a turbine, or having property that close, to sign a mitigation waiver.
“If you don’t want a turbine, one will never occur within a mile of you,” Piotti said. “Beyond that, any company would be required to meet noise and [shadow] flicker standards to keep the impact minimal.”
Selectman James Kenney noted the ordinance also makes provisions that “any reduction in property value will have to be addressed by the wind turbine owner.”
Piotti said because of its geography and topography, Unity is not likely to see a lot of interest from wind energy companies.
“If they do come, though, this ordinance gives us a lot of protection,” he said.
Addressing new requirements in the land use ordinance for smaller turbines, Piotti said anyone interested in erecting a smaller turbine would need to get a regular building permit, and then submit a little additional information – essentially, documents showing where the turbine would be located in relation to abutting properties, and a record showing the applicant had notified the owners of those abutting properties.
As were most of the other articles on the warrant, the articles for both the wind turbine generator ordinance and the new requirements in the land use ordinance were voted on by a verbal vote (as opposed to show-of-hands or secret ballot). On the wind turbine generator ordinance, perhaps several voices were heard to vote “no,” while a large majority voted “yes,” and on the new requirements in the land use ordinance, no one voted against the article.
On the article immediately preceding the wind-related articles, voters were asked if they would enact a “Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) Ordinance.” Doug Fox, chairman of the town’s Energy Committee, explained the PACE program (which is administered by Efficiency Maine) allows homeowners who are looking to do energy efficiency projects on their home to get low-interest loans for such improvements.
The idea, he said, is that residents would be able to pay off the loans with the amount of money they would save from whatever retrofits or other energy-efficient improvements had been done to their homes.
Fox fielded a number of questions from the audience – Would people in town be required to participate? Would it cost the town any money? Would it mean any additional work for town officials? – and answered “No” to each of those. When discussion wrapped up, voters approved the PACE ordinance.
The only article that was amended during the course of town meeting Saturday was article 11, which dealt with funding for the fire department. At the request of Fire Chief Dennis Turner Sr., voters agreed to bump the maintenance and operations line up from $52,808.04 to $59,808.04, with the extra $7,000 to come from taxes.
The extra money, Turner explained, would allow the fire department to take advantage of an opportunity they learned about only after the budget had been drafted – an opportunity to purchase a dozen Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus units.
Although second-hand – the units were originally used by Boston firefighters – Turner said the SCBA units represented a significant upgrade over Unity’s existing SCBA units.
Assistant Fire Chief David Smith noted that buying brand-new SCBA units would cost about $4,000 per unit, and said Unity’s current SCBA units are more than 20 years old.
Both Turner and Smith said the existing units are still serviceable, and Turner said the fire department would still be in business without the new equipment, but voters seemed to think it was a worthwhile investment, because no one was observed to vote no on the funding increase.
Article 26 – the last one before the lunch break, as it turned out – generated some discussion, as it involved funding requests from 19 various social service agencies and other community organizations.
Those funding requests ranged from $11,589 for Waldo Community Action Program to $50 for Habitat for Humanity of Waldo County, and in all but two cases, the town’s budget committee had recommended giving the groups their full financial request (Kno-Wal-Lin Home Care asked for $1,983 and got $1,500; Spectrum Generations asked for $1,344 and got $300).
Although it was not calculated in the warrant, the total amount recommended by the budget committee for all 19 groups came to $21,690.
The funding for WCAP drew some scrutiny. One woman asked why, when WCAP gets state and federal funding, the organization was coming to the town asking for “extra money.” WCAP representative Ed Murphy explained the organization has to demonstrate local support – i.e., funding approved at town meeting – to secure that state and federal funding.
Using a figure shared by Murphy, that WCAP had provided services to 374 individuals in Unity during the previous year, the same woman asserted – incorrectly, it turned out – that the funding request of $11,589 meant taxpayers would be spending about $270 per person who was helped by WCAP.
Someone else said she’d had the decimal point in the wrong place, and that the actual figure was about $27. “That still too much money,” the woman said. The actual per person figure – dividing the $11,589 request by 374 individuals – comes out to just under $31 per person.
In other business Saturday, Unity residents:
• Observed a moment of silence for former Selectwoman Margaret “Maggie” Wilcox, who died Aug. 17, 2010, at the age of 80. The annual town report was dedicated to Wilcox, and the front cover had a photo of her from a previous town meeting. “Maggie Wilcox was a star player for our community in so many ways,” said moderator Don Newell, in asking for the moment of silence.
• Learned the results of municipal elections, held the day before. Selectman Ron Rudolph was elected for another three-year term, and William Russell was chosen to fill out the remainder of Wilcox’s term (Wilcox died while serving as selectwoman; her term on the board was set to expire in March 2012). RSU 3 school board member Najean Shedyak was re-elected to her post, for a three-year term.
• Approved going over the LD 1 spending limit, despite the fact that the town’s budget was down from last year. When some confusion arose over the article – if spending was down, some wondered, why would the town need to exceed the limit? – Newell noted that last year the town had exceeded the LD 1 limit by a “substantial amount” (about $140,000, it was calculated). This year, Newell said, the town was only over by about $52,000 (that number went to $59,000 after the fire department funding was amended).
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