CLIFTON, Maine – Residents have voted six times concerning wind energy over the last five years and will return to the polls again on Tuesday, when they will decide whether to approve changes to the land use code, many that deal exclusively with wind turbine projects.
Over the years, the town has shelled out about $69,571 in legal expenses, $4,744 for elections costs, and $8,880 for a wind consultant to review the complicated sound level data for the five-turbine wind farm, Pisgah Mountain LLC.
The cost for Tuesday’s referendum vote adds another $583 to the total, according to Deborah Hodgins, town administrative assistant.
Rebel Hill Farm owners Peter and Julie Beckford, who are a part of the Clifton Task Force on Wind, say they have spent more than $40,000 to oppose the project, and Pisgah Mountain wind farm developer Paul Fuller and partners have spent $1.2 million.
The Pisgah Mountain partner’s costs include purchasing 270 acres on Pisgah Mountain, consultant and legal fees, and the cost of a system impact study required by ISO New England, the governing board of the region’s bulk power system and wholesale electricity markets, to sell the power produced.
“That cost a lot of money,” Fuller said Tuesday of the ISO study.
The wind farm partners have an agreement with ISO-New England, the six-state power grid operators, to connect to nearby Line 66, which has the capacity to handle the 9 megawatts of electricity that will be generated by the five turbines, Fuller has said.
Another cost that is important, Fuller said, is the lost $45,000 annual community benefit and tax revenues on the $25 million project, which was originally permitted in Oct. 2011. The Beckfords appealed the project’s permit, which was upheld by the Clifton Board of Appeals but terminated in December by a Superior Court judge who said the land use code was not followed.
The Pisgah Mountain developers filed an appeal in January to the state’s highest court to overturn the judge’s decision.
Shortly after buying the land, which is located at the top of the Pisgah Mountain, just south of Rebel Hill Road, in 2009, Fuller approached the town about putting up a meteorological tower to see if there was enough wind to harvest. While the tower collected data, town planners worked on creating 28 pages of industrial wind energy rules that became part of the land use code.
Accepting the 2010 amendments to the land use code with the new wind farm rules was the first vote taken by residents.
During the June 8, 2010, vote on the land use code amendments, residents cast 189 votes in favor of the amended rules and 91 against adopting the changes
They returned to the Town Hall on June 16, 2010, to vote on a moratorium on wind farms, and so many people arrived, the meeting was moved outside. Residents defeated the proposed wind energy moratorium 86-75.
Several months later, on Nov. 2, 2010, the Clifton Task Force on Wind members created their own wind farm rules and asked residents to replace the wind turbine portion of the land use code with one written by them. That was defeated.
The following spring, at the March 21, 2011, annual town meeting, residents endorsed 12 amendments of the land use code specific to wind energy.
On June 14, 2011, residents voted and approved two referendum questions that concern the proposed wind farm: one that added hunting cabins to the definition for residences in the town’s land use ordinance, and another in support of the developer applying for a Maine Public Utilities Commission certification as a Community-Based Renewable Energy Pilot Project, which provides incentives for the development of community-based renewable projects that are locally owned.
The first passed 96-63, and the PUC resolve was endorsed by an 89-70 tally.
The vote earlier this month, on June 10, was a referendum put forth by the Clifton Task Force on Wind and asked residents if they want to increase the setbacks for wind turbines to 4,000 from property lines, instead of homes. It was defeated, 230-177.
There are a number of changes proposed in Tuesday’s yes or no land use amendment referendum vote, which are available for viewing on the planning board’s website.