Fickle as the wind: Residents go to the polls Tuesday to decide on embattled campaign for local wind project
ANTRIM – Residents will finally get a chance to weigh in on the future of local wind energy development Tuesday, culminating an information war waged by campaigns aimed at dispelling confusion over two controversial ballot items proposed by the Planning Board.
The ballot items, the first of which proposes a zoning use ordinance regulating large scale wind projects and the second of which would limit any large scale wind development to areas outside the Rural Conservation District, or RCD, were drawn up by the Planning Board during a series of public hearing held in late summer and early autumn.
In the debate that has cleft Antrim’s role in bolstering renewable energy versus the value of rural character, the proposals have drawn outcry from residents concerned with property values and visual impacts of turbines, and from wind energy supporters who have decried the ordinance as unfriendly to development.
Impetus for establishing the regulations, while they will not technically be applied to any specific project, was catalyzed by a turbine development proposed by Eolian Renewable Energy for Tuttle Hill and Willard Mountain. After a firestorm of debate over local input last spring, project oversight was taken over by the state Site Evaluation Committee in June. In July, the project’s scope increased to 30-megawatt production capacity, which would have put the development under state jurisdiction anyway.
While the project application to the SEC is due by the end of January, and the committee will likely begin deliberating on the issue next spring, local officials have accelerated the drafting and voting process in the hopes that a local ordinance, if approved, will weigh heavily in the SEC process.
Among other regulations, the proposed ordinance requires turbines to be placed at least six times the turbine height from any occupied building. It also requires sound levels to be less than five dBA, or decibels, above levels recorded pre-construction, and sets out limitations on environmental and visual impacts.
But previous drafts sections to require meetings between a wind developer and affected residents were dropped after local landowners objected that a meeting was insufficient to protect against potential property devaluations. Over the course of the public hearings, landowners sought stronger language to hold developers accountable if their investments were devalued, but the board ultimately struck the section entirely saying that tax and property issues were not in their jurisdiction.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Antrim Wind LLC and their parent company Eolian Renewable Energy have launched a campaign to disseminate information about their proposed project, and wind energy enthusiasts have coalesced around environmental platforms to advocate for a rejection of the ordinance.
Eolian hosted an open house on Tuesday night in a final bid for support, gathering wind energy experts and consultants from around New England to talk with residents and address potential concerns.
Rob O’Neal, a sound engineer with Epsilon Associates out of Maynard, Mass., brought a sound measurement device to the event and reviewed the results of a series of experiments the company has conducted around the proposed site of the turbines.
Low conversations amongst approximate 25 attendees registered between 66 and 70 dBAs over the course of the evening – significantly above the 35 turbine-produced dBA expected to be heard a mile away from the site.
But skepticism and doubts over the environmental impact of the site still bothered a few attendees, who expressed dismay over the potential for wildlife habitats to be disrupted.
Overwhelmingly, attendees appeared supportive of the project, some staunchly so. Gordon Webber, a former Select Board member who initially sought state oversight on the project, condemned the ordinance as a bald-faced attack on Eolian’s turbine development, saying that the two articles taken together would effectively ban all wind energy from Antrim.
Webber launched a private group, Antrim Citizens for Renewable Energy, or ACRE, to endorse a “no” vote on both articles, and sent out a town-wide mailer this week.
“People have said, ‘we’re all for wind, we’re all for renewable energy, just not here,’” Webber said Tuesday, “well here is somewhere else for someone.”
Last week, the Select Board sent out a press release also advocating for a “no,” vote.
“The Board of Selectmen oppose the “Large-Scale Wind Ordinance” (Article #1),” the release reads, “because in their opinion, it is [too] restrictive. Article #2 would prohibit wind turbines and meteorological towers from the Rural Conservation District, which covers approximately half of the town… Approval of both articles would indicate to the SEC that the Antrim does not want or support a wind energy facility in town at all, which is contradictory to the surveys and opinions expressed by residents who favor a wind energy facility in Antrim.”
But Select Board member Eric Tenney did not vote to release the statement, abstaining from the decision at a recent Select Board meeting. Tenney said Tuesday that he supports wind energy development and also support the ordinance, although he doesn’t believe that the second article should pass. And while he said that the ordinance isn’t too restrictive for wind energy development to move forward, he’ll support whatever mandate next week’s vote decides.
“We’ve never really had a vote on wind in this town,” Tenney said, “and everybody’s got to do some compromising.”
This article appeared in the Nov. 3, 2011, edition of the Ledger-Transcript.
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