Voters soon will get a chance to consider passing an ordinance to regulate wind energy projects in Farmington, which would set local rules to control the development of wind turbines in the community.
In a split 3-2 decision, selectmen voted Tuesday night to present the issue as an article on the warrant at the March 19 annual town meeting.
If voters in town adopt the ordinance, it would add local rules for turbine noise, setbacks and other wind-energy issues to the town’s current zoning ordinance. Projects would have to meet state guidelines but they also could be forced to meet local ordinance standards, which many Maine communities have enacted in recent years.
Selectman Andrew Hufnagel said Tuesday that he voted against sending the ordinance to voters because the draft needed more work. He said there is a potential loophole in the rules tied to an exemption for people using wind turbines to power certain equipment, as opposed to using the wind energy strictly for general power generation.
“I’m not ready to send this ordinance as is to town meeting,” Hufnagel said.
Selectman Ryan Morgan cast the other opposing vote, claiming he wanted to see changes in the ordinance to protect more residents’ rights, as well as addressing the exemption problem.
Selectman Dennis Pike made the motion to send the issue to voters. He argued that without an ordinance, the town has no local control over the development, and that if there are issues after passage, the ordinance could be changed later.
Several of the roughly 15 residents at the meeting voiced concerns that the ordinance didn’t provide enough protection against wind turbine noise, claiming other towns have passed ordinances that have stricter regulations on the issue.
Farmington officials have been working on an ordinance proposal to regulate wind turbine construction for more than two years. Residents were set to vote on the issue at the annual town meeting last year; but just days before the meeting, officials learned that the proposal still needed to be reviewed by the town’s zoning board.
Some article highlights presented Tuesday include the differences between residential and commercial wind energy projects, according to Steve Kaiser, town code enforcement officer.
The two categories basically separate smaller turbines for personal use from larger models, which can reach more than 400 feet tall, used by businesses and commercial entities.
The ordinance draft was written to regulate commercial projects more closely while allowing people to pursue residential projects, Kaiser said.
A resident would have to pay the town $50 to submit a permit application for review, which is less than the $500 a commercial project developer would pay.
Commercial projects could be located only on property designated by the town zoning rules for general purpose, farm and forest uses. No projects, residential or commercial, could be located in the village business or village residential zones.
Kaiser said before the meeting Tuesday that the town has not received any applications for wind energy projects.
A wind energy company expressed interest last fall in building four wind turbines on a Bailey Hill Road farm in Farmington, without following through with further requests, Kaiser said.
Officials with Aeronautica Windpower, the company based in Plymouth, Mass., made the presentation to residents and town officials. The company hopes to build four wind turbines on farmland on Bailey Hill Road.
The proposal called for four 750-kilowatt wind turbines on property owned by Bailey Hill Farm. The mid-sized commercial wind turbines are 298-foot-tall structures, to the highest point of the turbine blade.
Kaiser said the company has been gathering data to determine if there is enough wind at the site to support the project.
At the presentation last fall, residents who live near the proposed site voiced concerns about the turbines changing the landscape, which they fear could affect property values.
If voters approve the ordinance, commercial wind projects would have to meet criteria regulating the appearance and effect on the landscape, Kaiser said.
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