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Frankfort approves six-month wind energy moratorium

Frankfort – Frankfort residents voted to enact a 180-day moratorium on commercial wind energy development Monday, May 23, at a special town meeting.

The vote on the moratorium came as a result of residents petitioning selectmen on the matter. According to figures provided by the Frankfort town office, the measure approved Monday night passed by a margin of 89 to 37.

An earlier draft of the moratorium, which referred to amending the town’s zoning ordinance – the town has none – was voted down Monday night (6 in favor, 92 opposed) as a matter of procedure.

The approved moratorium, which will allow the town time to draft an ordinance addressing wind energy projects, follows on the heels of a proposal from Portsmouth, N.H.-based Eolian Renewable Energy to erect several commercial-scale wind turbines atop Mount Waldo.

The section of the moratorium explaining what supporters saw as its necessity noted that the town has no comprehensive plan, zoning, land development regulations or building or other applicable municipal ordinances in place.

“Consequently, the existing regulatory scheme (of which there is none) is inadequate to prevent serious public harm from the development of Commercial Wind Energy Facilities in the Town of Frankfort,” the moratorium stated.

The document went on to cite noise, visual degradation, loss of property values and health problems as examples of serious public impacts.

Eolian got a cold reception from residents at the town’s annual meeting, March 25, as voters there passed over the company’s request for a letter of support from the town and – prior to that vote taking place – denied Eolian’s Senior Development Manager Travis Bullard permission to speak. Bullard, who is not a Frankfort resident, needed the support of at least two-thirds of the residents present at that meeting in order to speak.

The letter of support would have qualified Eolian for Maine’s Community-Based Renewable Energy Pilot Program (CBREPP), a program administered by the Maine Public Utilities Commission “to provide incentives for the development of community-based renewable projects.”

Eolian officials had indicated at a March 17 informational meeting with residents that while they hoped for a favorable vote at town meeting, they were prepared to proceed with the project even if the vote on support for them qualifying for the CBREPP was not favorable.

Speaking Tuesday, May 24, after the approval of the moratorium, Bullard said Eolian is “absolutely” continuing to pursue the Mount Waldo wind development.

“I think the merits of the project stand on its own,” he said. “I think a lot of the opposition comes to wind energy in general.”

Bullard said the development could include four to six turbines. The current design has four, 2.5-megawatt turbines, he said. Such a project would be prohibited while the moratorium is in effect, as the moratorium states that “any proposed facility that contains more than one turbine will be considered a commercial wind energy facility… .”

“This is a good project,” said Bullard, regarding Eolian’s proposed facility in Frankfort. “This is where wind power should be developed, on previously-impacted sites close to load centers.”

Eolian was founded in 2009, and according to the company’s website, has projects “in active stages of development” in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Michigan and North Dakota, ranging in size from one-to-two turbine, multi-megawatt projects to 25-30 MW wind farms.

Bullard said none the projects described on the company’s website have been completed or have reached the construction stage. He attributed this to the fact that Eolian is a relatively new company.

“Our big model is working with the community. So we’re always willing to sit down at the table and work with every member of the community, ” he said. “I think that’s important.”

As part of the approved moratorium, a six-person review committee has been appointed to help draft an ordinance for residents to consider.

The review committee’s specific charge, according to a copy of the moratorium, is to consult with the town’s planning board and interested members of the public in order to determine “the most appropriate method or methods to regulate Commercial Wind Energy Facilities” and to prepare one or more ordinances to be presented for a vote at a future town meeting.

The members of that review committee, according to a list provided by the Frankfort town office, are: Josh Dickson, Pam Peck, Steven Imondi, Brad Moore, Erin-Kate Sousa and Brad Eden.