At a forum last week, the selectmen and Planning Board heard appeals from a citizens group trying to delay the proposal of a 9-megawatt wind power facility in north Orland.
Calling itself Friends of Dodge Hill, the group is collecting signatures and petitioning the town to adopt a moratorium on turbine applications. According to those who spoke last Wednesday, Nov. 19, such a delay would allow the Planning Board to revisit several requirements in Orland’s wind power ordinance before an application arrives from Eolian Renewable Power, a Portsmouth, N.H., wind developer.
About 60 people attended last week’s forum, including several Eolian representatives who didn’t speak.
Eolian hasn’t yet filed an application with the Planning Board. According to its website, the proposed project would be located on leased private land atop Whites Mountain and Dodge Hill, near the borders of Dedham, Bucksport and Ellsworth.
It would consist of three wind turbines expected to generate enough power for 2,700 average Maine homes, the website says. Eolian estimates the project would result in annual property taxes of at least $150,000.
A year ago, Orland residents voted 439-258 in favor of Eolian’s project.
Some of that support showed last Wednesday, when several residents voiced support for wind power and urged town officials against delaying Eolian’s proposal with a moratorium.
Joe Kennedy spoke several times throughout the hour-plus meeting. Mentioning the recently announced closure of the paper mill in neighboring Bucksport, he said Orland should welcome new investment.
“There are pros and cons to [the proposal], but I think we need to be representing Orland’s interests,” Kennedy said. Referring to last year’s vote, he went on, “I’m trying to find out what changed between that vote and today. I’m not seeing it myself.”
But more residents who spoke at last week’s meeting favored the moratorium. Nikki Fox, who’s collecting signatures and asking the town to hold a vote on the matter, presented several of her concerns.
The town adopted a wind energy ordinance in 2011, Fox pointed out. But she questioned if that ordinance is too lax on the potential environmental, public health and safety impacts of turbines on nearby residents.
Fox specifically criticized the current requirement that turbines be set back a half-mile from homes, suggesting one mile would be better. She also recommended that a height restriction be established; none currently exists.
Fox raised several other issues, including the fact that Orland hasn’t updated its comprehensive plan in 16 years, despite the state’s suggestion that towns revise their plans every 7 to 10 years. She also questioned Eolian’s property tax estimates, saying that some turbines around the state have resulted in as low as $3,000 in property tax for their respective municipalities.
“There is much more research needed on a project of this size that affects so many families,” Fox said.
The Friends of Dodge Hill also collected over 100 signatures for a similar petition last spring, but the selectmen did not act on it.
Last week, town officials spent most of the meeting listening to both sides argue their cases.
At one point, Planning Board Chairman Jack MacBrayne explained that a separate public hearing would be held after Eolian formally submitted a proposal.
Dennis Johnson, a fellow board member, echoed Fox’s suggestion that the selectmen revisit the town’s comprehensive plan.
In an interview after the meeting, Eolian Chief Executive Officer Jack Kenworthy said support for the Orland project still seemed strong after last year’s vote of approval.
He said the company may submit a formal project proposal to the planning board and Maine Department of Environmental Protection as early as January, but added their timing would depend on the level of support for a moratorium.
As a company, Kenworthy said Eolian has been trying to develop several small-scale wind farms around the Northeast.
So far, the group hasn’t broken ground on a project. It used to include Dedham in its plans for Hancock County, but that town recently tightened up its own wind power regulations. In Waldo County, Frankfort residents have also resisted a $30-million, six-turbine facility proposed by Eolian.
Although the wind power industry has grown considerably in the United States, it still makes up just 1.6 percent of energy consumed nationwide, according to the Institute for Energy Research.
The American Wind Energy Association ranks Maine 26th for the number of utility-scale turbines that have been installed in the state.
In Hancock County, Maine’s largest developer, First Wind, has developed one wind farm in Township 16, near Eastbrook, and made plans for several more.
|Wind Watch relies entirely
on User Funding