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Fort Fairfield passes wind ordinance with one-mile setback

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine – After a recent moratorium and almost a decade of informal proposals for wind turbines, the Fort Fairfield Town Council approved a new wind ordinance Wednesday with a one-mile setback from nonparticipating landowners, noise abatements and viewshed protections.

Some residents cheered the action while supporters of wind power decried it as a de facto ban on development of such renewable energy projects.

“We’ve tried to impress that this [ordinance] is not pro- or anti-wind development,” said councilor John Herold, a member of the 11-person committee that wrote the ordinance. “If we don’t have this ordinance, we revert to the state standards. My thought is that Augusta doesn’t care about us. The only place on the earth that cares about Fort Fairfield is Fort Fairfield.”

Herold and three of the four other councilors voted in favor of the ordinance, which they said has a lot of support from the town’s 3,400 residents, including large landowners who previously considered leases with Horizon Wind, now a part of EDP Renewables.

“The residents of Fort Fairfield asked the Town Council to develop a set of rules for wind energy development that would protect the public health, safety and welfare of the town’s citizens,” Fort Fairfield Town Manager James Risner said in a press release issued after the vote. “The Wind Energy Technical Review Committee took its duties seriously, dug deep into the matter, and delivered its recommendations to the council in the form of this ordinance.”

The sole “no” vote on the town council, chairperson Jason Barnes, said he was concerned that the ordinance was too prohibitive and would dissuade other industries from considering moving to Fort Fairfield. “The town is struggling to maintain what we have,” with “stagnant growth,” said Barnes, a financial manager with Smith’s Farm. He also addressed accusations about a conflict of interest in his vote.

Smith’s Farm, one of the largest broccoli growers on the East Coast and a major landowner in Fort Fairfield, met with Horizon Wind around 2007 and 2008, “was offered leases for potential development and declined,” Barnes said. “The subject of wind energy has never been discussed since. The Smiths have never questioned me about my position on this council and I feel no conflict.”

Representatives of large and small wind companies said at both a public hearing on the measure last week and after Wednesday’s vote that the ordinance essentially rules out wind development, when the dynamics of the one-mile setback are applied to a rural town of 78 square miles.

The one-mile setback proposed in Fort Fairfield would require an average of 71 landowners to agree on a location for a turbine, which could be “impossible,” argued Katie Chapman, project manager at EDP Renewables, which now owns Horizon. EDP Renewables is currently in the permitting process for a proposed 250-megawatt Number Nine Wind Farm in unorganized territory in central Aroostook County.

Sue Jones, a Freeport resident, has been working with some landowners to propose a three-turbine community wind project under her company Shamrock Partners, and said it would have brought $30 million in economic development over 20 years along with $130,000 in annual property tax payments. The ordinance essentially kills the project, she said.

Councilor Dave McCrea suggested before the final vote that the town’s regulations could evolve and the ordinance could be rewritten “if the industry goes a different path and becomes easier to live with, if you will.”