Frankfort – Six months after Frankfort residents were formally approached by a Portsmouth, N.H.-based wind energy developer about erecting wind turbines atop Mount Waldo, voters will get a chance to weigh in on a wind energy ordinance that according to several sources would effectively ban wind energy developments from the town.
The Waldo Community Wind development, by Eolian Renewable Energy, would include four to six commercial-scale wind turbines, located near existing radio transmission towers on the mountain.
Representatives from Eolian were met with suspicion when they arrived earlier this year, but the company has maintained that the project would benefit the town and that the location is excellent for wind energy generation.
In March residents passed a 180-day moratorium on wind energy developments, creating a committee to draft a wind energy-specific ordinance. A draft version of the ordinance was completed in September and some minor changes have reportedly been made since.
The resulting document is similar to ordinances that have been adopted by at least a half-dozen other Waldo County towns.
Some, like Jackson, passed ordinances after wind developers had signed leases with landowners. Others, like Thorndike and Montville, passed wind ordinances preemptively. In each case, one of the most important details – setback distances – have been nearly identical, with most municipalities requiring a mile between a turbine and the nearest residence.
The Frankfort ordinance goes a step further, requiring a mile from abutting property lines.
Steven Imondi, one of five members of the town committee that drafted the ordinance, said the goal was to protect Frankfort residents from the potential negative health effects of living near large wind turbines. He described the drafting process as an exhaustive survey of dozens of studies from a wide range of sources. When it came to setbacks, he said, the studies often presented similar conclusions.
“With a mile setback, most of the major complaints were diminished,” he said.
The group also visited the Beaver Ridge Wind facility in Freedom and met with abutters. Separately, the group spoke with abutters of developments in Mars Hill and Vinalhaven, he said. Additionally, speakers from surrounding towns that have drafted wind ordinances were brought in to talk about what they did.
“This committee worked diligently since March,” Imondi said. “Members have put their lives on hold to draft something that would protect the health and welfare of the town.”
Imondi said there are around 30 residences within a one mile radius of the proposed Mount Waldo development. In a response to the proposed ordinance, Eolian said the designation of property lines rather than residences meant the number of affected parties could be hundreds, particularly with regard to noise restrictions, which in some cases would apply up to two miles from the turbine.
Asked if a place exists in Frankfort where an industrial wind turbine could be installed and meet the requirements of the ordinance, Imondi said the developer had claimed there isn’t, and he guessed that was probably correct.
For a wind energy developer like Eolian, the only apparent way around the restrictions would be through the use of “mitigation waivers,” which would allow property owners within the setback range to individually release the developer from the liabilities of the ordinance.
Travis Bullard of Eolian Renewable Energy called the proposed ordinance a “project killer.”
In a written response to an initial draft of the ordinance, Eolian raised dozens of concerns – the words “unreasonable” and “onerous” appeared in the letter 19 and seven times, respectively; “wind” was mentioned 30 times – but Bullard said the two major problems are the proposed setbacks and noise restrictions.
On the latter, Bullard said the rules, as written, would require the turbines to be quieter than the typical ambient noise level for a rural area. In the company’s written response to a section requiring that sound measurements be taken a wind levels below 4.5 miles per hour, a palpable sense of annoyance could be heard.
“Turbines typically do not operate or produce any sound at 4.5 mph, and hence no sound should be ‘noticeable,'” it read.
Despite his frustration, Bullard said Eolian has been trying to keep a positive attitude toward the proposed project. The company opened an office in Frankfort in early September and has been having events, including a recent pig roast, as a way to talk with community members.
“This is a really good project,” Bullard said. “It is the best site in Waldo County. It would bring substantial revenue to the town and it’s really a great site for wind power.”
A required public hearing on the proposed wind energy ordinance will be held Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Frankfort Elementary School.
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