INDUSTRY – Residents gathered at the town hall recently to review an ordinance designed to regulate the use of wind turbines in town.
The proposed ordinance was designed by the planning board and a Wind Ordinance Committee over the past 6 months, following the enactment of a temporary moratorium earlier this year. The ordinance attempts to balance the interests of the town and maintaining public safety with the rights of property owners.
By law, any development which results in the disturbance of three or more acres requires a permit from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. In the case of wind turbines, state-issued permits set standards regarding allowable noise levels, special treatments for wetlands, shore-lands, access roads and vegetation management.
Industry’s proposed ordinance would add requirements for DEP-permitted turbines. These would include a setback of 7,000 feet from surrounding property lines, the Industry Town line and any structure or wind turbine that is not part of the wind project, a $3 million insurance policy with the town as the beneficiary, a site plan prepared by a Maine licensed surveyor or engineer, a copy of the DEP permit including any conditions, and certification that the noise level is 90 decibels or less within fifty feet of the turbine’s support tower. Also required is a letter of agreement from any utility that has accepted the connection to the power grid, a $1,000 application fee and $50,000 in annual administrative fees.
For wind turbines not requiring a DEP permit, the proposed ordinance includes the following standards: proof of liability insurance, a $100 application fee, a 5,000 feet setback for turbines 200-300 feet high, 2,000 feet for turbines 100-199 feet high, and 1,000 feet for turbines less than 100′ feet high. Small rooftop turbines less than 500 watts and less than 30 decibels, require a setback one and one-half times the turbine height.
All applicants wishing to install turbines of any size must follow a Town of Industry application procedure which includes a map showing setbacks and property lines, a list identifying abutting property owners, documented rights to the land the turbine will be built upon, a project description including turbine specifics, and a pre-application meeting with the Industry Planning Board.
The proposed ordinance also gives the town the ability to respond to and eliminate blight, as determined by declining property values within five miles of any turbine project approved by the DEP.
During the discussion, attendees raised several issues concerning the protection of views and the natural state, the impact of a commercial wind farm on local taxes, how turbines could benefit Industry, how many Maine towns currently have wind turbines, requested maps showing potential turbine locations and distances to areas within town, and asked how turbine noise is addressed by the ordinance.
The noise limitations in the proposed ordinance are aimed at protecting the health of residents and the future use and value of surrounding properties. While DEP-permitted turbines must comply with the DEP standards for noise, communities have experienced problems when relying solely on DEP sound monitoring. Sound monitoring is only useful after turbines are installed and running. A pre-determined setback distance is intended to avoid problems rather than deal with problems after large amounts of money have been invested.
Based upon the experiences of communities hosting commercial wind turbines, the 90 decibel limit at the tower base combined with the 7,000 feet (1.3 mile) setback, plus DEP noise limits, should provide the intended result of not subjecting surrounding properties to harmful noise.
A good bit of discussion revolved around the appropriateness of wind turbines on hilltops. Since Industry does not have a Comprehensive Plan which could define land use goals or identify the need to preserve local character, the Planning Board is limited to the utilization of ordinances which do not rely on those concepts; views and preservation of local character have no legal standing in Industry.
In response to the questions regarding the impact on property taxes, the Planning Board will develop a multi-year projection of how the local tax rates would change–with and without commercial turbines–when state revenue sharing and residential property values are considered.
Computer-based maps will be prepared showing the most likely location of turbines in Industry, although since no applications have been submitted, this is speculative information.
The planning board and committee thanks everyone who attended the presentation, as well as Rep. Lance Harvell for attending and following our community activities.
The board and committee will review and refine the proposed ordinance and respond to the issues raised during the review. A second information and open discussion meeting will be held before the ordinance is voted on at the March 2013 town meeting.