DIXFIELD – A representative from a Massachusetts wind energy company fielded questions Monday evening from selectmen and residents about what effects an upcoming Wind Energy Facility Ordinance vote would have on a potential project.
Patriot Renewables LLC of Quincy, Mass., approached Dixfield officials three years ago about constructing a 20-megawatt wind turbine project on Colonel Holman Mountain ridge. The corporation has been conducting research on the ridge, including wind tests, bird studies and environmental impact studies.
A wind power ordinance was approved in 2012, but selectmen voted to send it to the Planning Board in early 2013 to strengthen it. In September, selectmen approved the amended version which increases the setback from the nonparticipating parcel’s property line from 2,000 feet to 4,000 feet.
Residents will vote on the ordinance Nov. 4.
Resident Peter Holman said at a recent public hearing that he spoke with Tom Carroll, project coordinator of Patriot Renewables, who said a wind development project in Dixfield under the amended setback requirements would be impossible.
Town Manager Carlo Puiia asked Carroll to attend Monday’s meeting to answer questions from the board and residents.
“Tonight, we’re hoping you’ll be able to talk about the ordinance and how it affects Dixfield,” Puiia told Carroll. “We’re here to ask Tom how our ordinance is going to fit with the wind industry.”
Selectman Hart Daley said that at the Oct. 22 public hearing, a resident said he had spoken to Carroll about the ordinance and how it would be impossible to construct a wind turbine project
“I was just giving my opinions on some of the questions that were asked of me,” Carroll said. “I haven’t read the ordinance. They were just asking for my opinion on some things.”
Daley said, “We had been told that the proposed project would be between 10 and 13 turbines, and then 12 turbines, and then eight turbines and then we were presented with information saying it would only be six turbines.”
“To be honest,” Carroll said, “we haven’t gotten that far yet. We go by megawatts, not by the number of turbines. For instance, five years ago, at the Spruce Mountain Wind Farm project, we were looking at a 1.8-megawatt turbine. By the time we went to file our permit, there was a 2-megawatt turbine out there, so we were able to reduce the number of turbines. The 20-megawatt project is not going to change moving forward. It’s really a question of how we get to that number that might change.”
Carroll said later, “I just can’t tell you how many turbines it’s going to take to get to 20 megawatts. There could be new cutting-edge technology that allows us to get to meet the 20 megawatt threshold with a lesser amount of turbines, but we’re far away from the point where we’d be ready to file a permit application.”
A majority of the discussion focused on setback and sound limits in the amended Wind Energy Facility Ordinance. The ordinance says no wind energy facility unit or system should generate sound levels exceeding 35 decibels from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., or 42 decibels from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. It also states that the setback for a wind turbine from a nonparticipating parcel’s property should be 4,000 feet.
In regards to the sound limits, Carroll said that “with the projects we have up and running, I haven’t heard any complaints.”
“You haven’t heard any complaints from Woodstock or any other projects?” Daley asked.
Carroll said that “two or three years ago, which was our first year up and running, we received six complaints from three different people. Since September of 2012, we haven’t received one complaint. When I was having a conversation today with Vern Maxfield, the Woodstock town manager, he said he’d draft a message to you guys stating these facts.”
Daley said he had a copy of an article from The Bethel Citizen that contained 19 letters from Woodstock residents complaining about wind turbine noise, and that Woodstock didn’t draft a wind ordinance with setback limits until after the Spruce Mountain Wind Farm was constructed.
Carroll said he had not read the letters, and that Maxfield had explained the town of Woodstock’s wind ordinance in his letter to selectmen.
In that letter, Maxfield wrote, “I want to make sure that the residents in the town of Dixfield know that the town of Woodstock did, in fact, adopt a commercial wind ordinance on March 25, 2013, after the Spruce Mountain Wind Farm was established.
“This was in no way meant to reflect negatively on the operations of the Spruce Mountain Wind Farm,” he wrote continued. “In fact, there has since been a small amount of interest in repealing the ordinance. Support from the members of the Wind Ordinance Committee, who had spent a huge amount of time developing it, played a part in its approval. I’d also note that many of the members of the committee had many of the same concerns that go along with an anti-wind sentiment.”
Maxfield said the vote to approve the ordinance was 48-44, and that since early fall of 2012, “there has been no recorded complaints about the wind turbines.”
“We also did an independent sound study in late summer of 2012 in the Concord Pond area that showed noise levels were less than the minimum level allowed by state law,” Maxfield wrote.
Carroll said he didn’t ask Maxfield to write the letter.
“I asked him if I could give you his name and phone number so you could talk to him, and he said he’d write this letter for you to explain everything,” Carroll said.
Daley presented a document from the Woodstock Commercial Wind Energy Facility Committee that said, “the No. 1 concern we heard from residents about wind turbines was about the noise they produce.”
The document said the ordinance attempted to address these concerns by having a low volume limit of daytime and nighttime noise, and by applying a greater setback distance from abutting properties.
Daley said residents had complained to the committee about the noises the turbines produced, including the sounds of “a jet flying overhead that doesn’t pass by,” “thumping noises,” and “an industrial motor noise, similar to a cement mixer truck,” and that the noises created “a continual thumping pressure in the chest or the ear.”
“Yeah, and I would completely disagree with that,” Carroll said. “We had six complaints from three different people.”
Carroll said one woman complained once, and after the other two families complained, Patriot Renewables organized a noise study overseen by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
“Their houses were about a mile and three quarters away,” Carroll said. “We got the DEP to come out, the town of Woodstock, some employees with Patriot Renewables and a reporter from The Bethel Citizen. The results showed that we were well below any noise threshold. Since that study was done, we have not received a single complaint from any of those people.”
Carroll suggested that selectmen contact Scott and Thelma Kendall on Shagg Pond.
“Their families have been there for over 120 years,” Carroll said. “Scott himself will say the noise doesn’t bother him because he’s deaf, but also that nobody around him complains about them.
“We have a great working relationship with the town,” Carroll said. “We had an open house with over 300 residents from not only Woodstock but from other communities. It certainly wouldn’t be fair to paint Woodstock as a town that has a problem with our facility. We haven’t even heard from the people who were complaining before the wind turbines were installed.”
Board of Selectmen Chairman Scott Belskis asked Carroll if Patriot Renewables had issued sound easements since putting in the turbines.
Carroll said, “No.”
“These 19 letters that appeared in The Bethel Citizen aren’t just from Woodstock residents. They’re from Shagg Pond and Concord Pond owners too,” Daley said.
“Yeah, I’ve never seen that,” Carroll said.
Daley suggested that Carroll read the letters online.
Near the end of the meeting, Daley mentioned that many residents who attended the Oct. 22 public hearing were worried that the ordinance would make constructing the wind project “impossible.”
“I’m not going to call it impossible,” Carroll said. “If our goal is to go out and lose money and not have a productive project, then yes, it’s certainly possible to build it. In my opinion, you can’t build a project that is worth building under the guidelines that I’ve heard, with the setback and noise limits. I would not tell people that it’s impossible though.”
Daley said, “Like it or not, the people in this town are more important than any industry that comes to town. Their health, their well-being, their property rights, they’re all more important. It’s about finding a balance.”