Freedom – The town that threw out its commercial development review ordinance three years ago to make way for a trio of industrial wind turbines is now taking steps to draft a new one. Whether new rules in Freedom should pose obstacles for future wind developments was the topic of discussion at a Jan. 10 Planning Board meeting.
The Planning Board is in the initial stages of constructing new commercial development rules that officials anticipate will govern wind development in Freedom within a broader ordinance that includes other types of businesses. Chairman Bill Pickford said the current plan is to complete the document in time to place the ordinance on the June ballot.
Fifteen residents, many of whom live near the three-turbine Beaver Ridge Wind facility, attended the Jan. 10 meeting to weigh in on what the ordinance should include with regards to new wind energy developments or upgrades to the existing turbines.
Freedom is currently the only town in Waldo County with commercial wind turbines. The Beaver Ridge Wind development was built in 2008 by an offshoot of Portland-based Competitive Energy Services and is currently owned by Beaver Ridge Wind, a subsidiary of Quincy, Mass.-based Patriot Renewables.
As part of the contentious approval process of the roughly $10 million development, residents voted in 2008 to repeal the town’s commercial development review ordinance.
Accounts from neighbors of the completed development and videos posted online of the noise and shadow flicker from the turbines subsequently caught the attention of residents of surrounding towns. Some, like Unity, Stockton Springs and Thorndike have since passed precautionary ordinances specific to wind energy development. Others, like Jackson and Frankfort passed wind energy ordinances after being approached by developers.
The effect of these ordinances – most if not all of which require turbines to be located at least one mile from neighboring residences or property lines – has been to ban new developments, said Planning Board member Glen Bridges, who told attendants Tuesday night that she had reviewed maps and found the same would be true in Freedom.
Bridges asked residents in attendance if the goal was to allow wind developments in Freedom and regulate them, or to ban them. She later said she felt other towns have been disingenuous in passing ordinances with restrictions that effectively precluded wind developments without calling it a ban.
Others disagreed with the premise.
“It seems like you’re … saying let’s develop these based on what we can fit in here where I think the other side of the coin is let’s develop an ordinance that makes it where we can live around them,” said Steve Bennett.
Bridges disagreed with Bennett’s interpretation of her statement. Other added to what Bennett said.
“If the case for developing commercial wind power is compelling enough economically then the wind developers can purchase the property,” said Selectman Brian Jones. “The charge of the Planning Board is not to protect commercial interests. The purpose of the planning board is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the community and the citizens.”
Carrie Bennett said the ordinance should also regulate upgrades to the Beaver Ridge Wind development. Bennett argued that the existing 1.5 megawatt turbines could be retrofitted with 3 MW nacelle and blade assemblies on the existing towers and that such a “repower” would make the development much louder without adding more turbines.
“It’s just throwing us under a whole new bus,” she said. “We’ve got the regular bus, and then you’re saying, let’s send the double decker.”
Bridges argued against limiting the power output, saying that future turbine designs could potentially be both quieter and produce more power than today’s models. Others thought the ordinance should be based on what is known. Bennett noted that the town did away with its ordinance once and could do so again to address technological changes.
Questions followed as to what changes to the existing facility would require town approval. Code Enforcement Officer David Schofield likened changes to adding a new deck to a house and others agreed that the developer would need to come to the town with changes. But some questioned to what degree the turbines would be grandfathered under the new ordinance.
Steve Bennett [former selectman and great uncle of previously mentioned Steve Bennett] argued that the loose wording of the original permit could be enough to allow for a wide range of changes.
Pickford said he believed the town could place retroactive restrictions on the Beaver Ridge development but should expect that enforcing them would result in a legal struggle.
Other concerns included how noise would be measured and how the town would enforce noise-based rules, how the ordinance would address shadow flicker (the strobe effect caused inside a building when a turbine blade passes between the sun and the window) and what protections the town would have against being stuck with abandoned turbines in the event that the operating LLC dissolved.
“We hope we’ve covered all the wagers – there’s probably going to be lots of things we haven’t thought of,” said Pickford who referred to statements Bridges made earlier about potential new turbine designs.
“But this is the one thing that we have here now … so we want to come up with something that makes sense,” he said.
“This is the one thing that we’ve learned from the hard way,” said Jones, who suggested that board members “be creative in their imaginations of what else we could be confronting as a community such that we don’t have to learn the hard way one more time.”
“And we will look at those things,” said Pickford. “But to look at all of those things when they’re not imminent and a possibility just encumbers the whole ordinance thing. But we can do the moratorium and we can do things if we had to if something came up that looked like it was a real issue.”
Selectman Ronald Price, who owns the 76-acre parcel on which the Beaver Ridge Wind development stands, read a statement to the board in which he argued against placing restrictions on future upgrades provided they meet the original permit criteria. Price echoed Bridges’ earlier statement that future turbine designs are unknown and therefore should not be ruled out.
“The board should consider that renovations and upgrades might improve efficiency and decrease annoyance factors. Upgrades could have a positive effect on nearby residents and at the same time have a positive impact on the environment.”
Price also expressed concern that a future ordinance would prohibit he or a family member from building a residence or a place of business on the same property as the turbines. He also cited figures on increasing greenhouse gases.
Residents also briefly discussed the status of a proposed water extraction development. Town officials did not know but resolved to find out. Pickford said wind energy and water extraction are the two major existing business concerns that need to be addressed in the final commercial development review ordinance.
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