Wind Power Limits

Posted Aug. 13, 2009, at 5:59 p.m.

The wind turbines and towers built in Mars Hill were Maine’s first industrial-scale wind power project. Getting the project right was critical, and lawsuits filed by neighbors recently suggest the standards designed to protect residential living were not as strict as they needed to be.

The curve of the public response to new enterprises using new technology is all too predictable, whether it is aquaculture, cell phones or wind power. At first, it is embraced by people who do not want to see themselves as Luddites, and who correctly recognize that if Maine is to grow economically, it must allow change. But when the feed and feces from the aquaculture pens begin to foul the waters, when the cell towers are built on a favorite scenic hill and when the whoosh and whir from wind turbines become an irritant, that good will dissipates quickly.

The state moved to create standards for wind power projects in the Unorganized Territory, and a task force discussed standards that could be adopted in municipalities. But the responsibility for getting set-back distances that virtually eliminate the annoyance factor for residents should fall to the in-dustry. If wind power firms can keep neighbors happy, at least for the most part, new proposals will be more likely to be accepted. The last thing this burgeoning industry needs is for Mars Hill to become a rallying cry for those opposing towers and turbines.

Comments made on the BDN’s Web site about the recent news story on the lawsuits are indicative of the teeter-totter nature of the public’s perception of wind power at this moment. They range from sympathetic to dismissive of the complainants. Those who are sympathetic add anecdotal information about the sound of the blades, and those who are dismissive do the same, reporting about places in the Midwest and California where wind towers proliferated years before they appeared in Maine.

The industry would do well to pay for studies to determine at just what distance, and under what conditions, the sound of the towers is not offensive (or perceptible). The aesthetics of the towers is another issue altogether, and one which cannot be easily mitigated. But once the distance issue is settled, the industry should insist that state regulators adopt these standards and make them available to municipalities to do the same.

Though former Gov. Angus King and University of Maine researchers may make the point moot if they are able to develop offshore wind power, too much is at stake with this new technology to needlessly or recklessly turn public opinion against it.

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