Town that triggered wave of wind energy regulation gets rules of its own
By a vote of 32-6, voters passed an exhaustive set of rules for wind turbines Nov. 17 including setbacks that would have blocked the three-turbine wind farm on Beaver Ridge had they existed in 2008.
The 40-page Town of Freedom Wind Energy Ordinance notably requires setbacks of 13 times the turbine height for three larger classes of windmills, which translates to close to a mile for a 400-foot industrial wind turbine.
The document is identical to one narrowly rejected by voters in 2013. Planning Board Chairman Bill Pickford described it as having been “cut and pasted” from similar ordinances adopted in nine Waldo County towns in 2010 and 2011.
Fewer than half of those nine towns were responding to specific proposals from developers. The others adopted ordinances as a precaution. Supporters of the stringent rules in other towns invariably pointed to complaints from neighbors of the new windmills in Freedom.
The 4.5-megawatt Beaver Ridge Wind development was contentious before it went online in 2008. In the years after it started generating power, the wind farm was at center of a well-publicized rift in the town.
At the time of its construction, there were only a few wind farms in Maine and none as small as Beaver Ridge Wind. Today only Fox Islands Wind, a community wind development on Vinalhaven, is comparable. Nearly every other wind farm in the state is rated for 10 times the energy production of BRW, or more.
Further complicating things in Freedom, the turbines were built on land owned by First Selectman Ron Price. The project was brought to the town by Competitive Energy Services, a Portland-based company at which Price’s nephew was a principal.
After the turbines went up, neighbors complained of noise and shadow flicker. A 28-percent tax cut touted by the developer based on the $10 million in new valuation was at least partly consumed by a bump in Freedom’s share of school and county costs.
Relations improved under the ownership of Beaver Ridge Wind LLC, a subsidiary of Quincy, Mass.-based Patriot Renewables, and though there have been no new wind energy proposals, the subject was intentionally left out of a commercial development ordinance adopted by voters in 2013.
The wind ordinance, in its first draft, was voted down in the same election.
If the rules adopted in Freedom Nov. 17 resembled those adopted in other towns, so did the debate. Opponents said the rules would effectively ban wind developments.
Members of the Planning Board noted that a developer could get waivers from neighboring property owners to meet the steep setback requirements.
To date, that hasn’t happened in Waldo County. Developers that once eyed sites in Thorndike, Jackson and Frankfort for wind farms all abandoned plans after the towns adopted wind energy ordinances.
Freedom’s ordinance would allow repairs and replacements of parts at Beaver Ridge Wind, as long as these did not increase the size or output of the turbines, which Pickford said typically meant more noise.
Asked what would happen if technological improvements made it possible to produce more power without additional nuisance, Planning Board members said that could be taken up if the need arose.
Price was among those who voted against the ordinance. Speaking after the meeting, he said his objection was with the scope of the ordinance.
“I just think it’s overkill,” he said.
Negative aspects of the turbines have attracted a lot of attention, he said, but they have been good for the town financially. Beaver Ridge Wind has given money to town projects, including baseball fields and a recent overhaul of the dam at Sandy Pond.
Freedom has also built up its general fund, he said, in part through taxes paid by BRW and Central Maine Power for the turbines and transmission lines.
Price acknowledged that residents who have been adversely affected by the turbines will still have to live with the wind farm.
“But at least they can feel there won’t be another one,” he said. “Maybe that’s good, maybe that’s bad.”