A 100-plus crowd turned out Wednesday evening for a public conversation about a proposed moratorium on wind power development.
That moratorium, which will come to vote at a special town meeting Jan. 20, would prevent the town from accepting any wind power proposals for 180 days.
A citizens group calling itself the Friends of Dodge Hill has been pushing for the temporary ban, saying it will allow Orland to tighten its wind regulations before receiving a proposal from New Hampshire developer Eolian Renewable Energy.
Eolian wants to erect three turbines on Whites Mountain and Dodge Hill in north Orland, near the borders of Dedham, Bucksport and Ellsworth. The towers would generate up to 9 megawatts of power, Eolian estimates.
In some respects, that number is a drop in the bucket compared to the 614 megawatts that come from the 14 utility scale wind energy projects already started or completed in Maine, according to a recent report by University of Southern Maine Professor Charles Colgan.
But if the output from the Orland project would be low, the debate around its potential impact has grown more intense with the Jan. 20 vote looming.
The town’s current wind power ordinance was adapted from a state model over several years and approved by voters in 2011. Two years later, residents voted 439 to 258 in favor of Eolian’s three-turbine project.
Those opposing the moratorium have pointed to that latter number as evidence the project commands strong support. They’ve also questioned what new studies show the 2011 ordinance to be inadequate.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Orland resident Curtis Marston praised the current regulations, which were approved in the wake of two moratoriums.
“The issue I have trouble understanding here is the need for another moratorium when there’s been no evidence presented by anybody that shows the ordinance we currently have is insufficient,” he said.
Joining the opponents Tuesday was Jeremy Payne, head of the Maine Renewable Energy Organization and a lobbyist for wind developers.
Speaking to the crowd, Payne argued that Friends of Dodge Hill doesn’t want to slow wind development in Orland so much as end it. He also said there’s a lack of hard data suggesting health risks or property value reductions from proximity to turbines.
Still, more than twice as many speakers at the forum – some from Dedham – voiced their support for the moratorium.
With news reports coming from towns such as Freedom and Mars Hill about the detrimental affects of turbines to the natural scenery and residents’ peace of mind, they advised other voters to consider the homeowners in north Orland and neighboring towns who’d be most exposed to the proposed infrastructure.
One of the citizen group’s main goals is to have the distance between turbines and homes permitted in the ordinance be extended from a half-mile to one mile.
“I go to sleep every night thinking this could be one-half mile from my bedroom,” said Pamela Letarte of north Orland. “I could hear the vibrations. I could hear the wind. I could feel when they blast for this. I may lose my water supply because of this, so I have a personal impact on how this goes.”
Another influential figure in the state’s broader wind power debate attended Tuesday’s forum in support of the proposed moratorium.
Christopher O’Neil is a lobbyist and spokesman for the anti-wind development group Friends of Maine Mountains. He said he’s helped about 40 other Maine towns update their wind ordinances.
Under the current rules, he argued, residents closest to Eolian’s proposed turbines would experience great distress. The moratorium would just be “a time out,” he said.
Several Eolian representatives were at Tuesday’s meeting. CEO Jack Kenworthy said he respected the crowd’s concern about the distance between homes and turbines and would await the result of the Jan. 20 vote.
If a moratorium is passed and the setbacks are extended to one-mile, project manager Travis Bullard said Eolian would likely have to abandon ship.
Responding to an email Thursday morning, he wrote, “If the setback were changed to 1 mile, no wind power could be constructed in Orland – it would be a de facto ban on wind.”