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The wind energy machine

I witnessed first hand the underbelly of the wind energy machine, and how they intimidate ordinance committee members and manipulate small towns strapped for money.

The Frankfort Wind Ordinance Committee was formed in the spring of 2011 in response to a wind energy project being planned for the top of Mt. Waldo. As an elected committee member my duties centered on researching the environmental and wildlife issues associated with industrial wind turbine facilities. After months of open committee meetings and town hearings, residents voted in the Frankfort Wind Ordinance. This process tore at the very fabric of the community, pitting neighbor against neighbor, and resident against nonresident property owners.

Now, three years later, even after the town won a lawsuit confirming the veracity of the town ordinance, the wind energy company is back carrying an incentive goody bag, and campaigning to persuade residents to overturn the town wind ordinance.

For those not familiar, Mt. Waldo is the centerpiece of Frankfort if not all of Waldo County. Some folks can view it from their decks and it can be seen while traveling the roadways towards town from most any bearing on a compass. If you have taken that vista for granted you will notice 400 to 500-foot-high industrial wind turbines that would dwarf the cell towers already on the summit. At 1,060 feet, Mt. Waldo is a distinctive geographical feature and is rated high for wind energy generation. Its unique granite geology and contours make gauging the effects of noise and light flicker on the adjacent community guesswork at best. It’s not a monotonous mountain range set afar from civilization, but is a lone fixture rising up smack dab in the middle of a community. It’s also in a flyway for migrating bats and birds, including raptors, like falcons, hawks, owls, and bald eagles. It’s not a question of whether bats and birds will be killed by the turbine blades, it’s simply how many deaths will be deemed acceptable by state and federal regulations, which are largely impotent when it comes to industrial wind turbine facilities.

Throughout the ordinance deliberation a major concern was that the state Wind Energy Ordinance didn’t address the specific nature of the proposed location, nor sufficiently protect the residents’ health, property values, and quality of life. Another key point was private property rights; both those of the nonresident landowners leasing land to the wind energy company and those who owned property or homes in the vicinity. In state or town-adopted ordinances there is a setback distance required between the turbines and property. Anyone owning a home or land within those setbacks can sign a waver and negotiate an arrangement with the wind energy company. That setback distance and formula for the state ordinance is 150% the height of the particular turbines, for instance: 600 feet for 400-foot turbines. The Frankfort Wind Ordinance setback is set at 5,280 feet or 1 mile, which reflects other similar town-drafted wind ordinances. The mountain, hillsides, and lowlands are owned by a multitude of private land and homeowners who want a say in whether industrial wind turbines are allowed to loom over or impact their lives and property. The Frankfort ordinance provides that.

Statistics and studies were trotted out to convince residents that an industrial wind turbine facility would not compromise their property values. My experience trying to sell our home during the heat of the wind ordinance debate doesn’t mirror that. The first question from every interested buyer was whether the turbines would be going in. We had to answer that we didn’t know. Certainly there were other factors, but the house didn’t sell—until after the Frankfort Wind Ordinance was adopted.

I may no longer live in Frankfort but I witnessed first hand the underbelly of the wind energy machine and how they intimidate ordinance committee members and manipulate small towns strapped for money. Using innocuous terms like “windmills” and “wind farms” can’t disguise the reality that wind energy is a ruthless business guided by money and greed, as much as by any aspirations to save the planet. I have faith that this returning blast of wind, replete with a team of consultants and lawyers, won’t hoodwink the Frankfort residents. I also hope that this small Maine town isn’t torn irreparably in half as a result.

Brad Eden is an artist, writer, and registered Maine Master Guide.