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Maine towns move toward 1-mile wind farm setbacks

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Two Maine towns grappling with crafting wind farm ordinances are pushing the envelope on setback requirements.  In November,, voters in Dixmont, where plans were afoot to place turbines atop the 1165-foot Mount Harris, approved a 1-mile setback requirement by a large margin.  A story in the Portland Press Herald provides a good overview of the forces behind this vote, and the ripples it is causing in the wind industry.  From the Press Herald story:

Dixmont’s farming heritage is reflected in its forests and open fields, but the town has become a rural bedroom community for Bangor, Newport and Waterville. There are few local businesses; the elementary school is the largest employer. So when developers began measuring wind speeds atop Mount Harris, Hog Hill and Peaked Mountain, some residents saw the chance to lower taxes through revenue collected from renewable energy. Others, however, saw their town with no protection from industrial development. That led to a moratorium on wind projects last November, while the town crafted rules.

What followed was a deliberate process in which the Planning Board studied wind power ordinances in other states and countries, as well as Maine’s model ordinance. The town encouraged residents to make the half-hour drive to Freedom, where they could stand under the whirling blades on Beaver Ridge. Some residents even visited the wind farm at Mars Hill in Aroostook County. Several townspeople spoke to homeowners next to these projects. Among the messages they heard is that the turbines disrupted abutters’ lives. Complaints ranged from noise and visual flicker to health effects that some people blame on living near wind farms. These anecdotes seemed to have a decisive impact, said First Selectman Judy Dann. “I think people listened to the stories that these people had to tell,” she said, and helped convince a majority that wind turbines weren’t a good fit for Dixmont.

Meanwhile, the selectmen in Jackson unveiled a 56-page draft ordinance that includes several unusually far-reaching elements. Setbacks are proposed to be 13 times turbine height, which would come to just under a mile for 400-foot turbines; current industry norms are closer to 300 feet, which would create setbacks of about three-quarters of a mile (likely to avoid nearly all noise complaints, based on recent reports of problems at other wind farms, and several larger research studies of annoyance and sleep disruption around wind farms).  This would require energy companies to negotiate with all families in that large zone if they wanted to obtain waivers, which would also be allowed. The Jackson ordinance will be put to a local vote after the selectmen consider it more fully.

Meanwhile, the Friends of Lincoln Lakes filed a legal brief supporting their appeal of the August decision of the Board of Environmental Protection (BEP). At that time, the BEP affirmed the April 2009 Order of the Department of Environmental Protection, granting a license to First Wind for the construction of the Rollins Ridge Industrial Wind Farm in Lincoln and surrounding towns. The brief questions the adequacy of the noise standards as well as the modeling used to assure compliance with the noise standards. Download full brief here.

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