OAKFIELD, Maine — The town is poised to become Maine’s first municipality to enact guidelines aimed at eliminating adverse impacts allegedly caused by industrial wind sites, Town Manager Dale Morris said Wednesday.
Intended for First Wind’s $120 million wind-to-energy facility proposed for Oakfield Hills, the guidelines set a post-construction protocol for noise complaints and require post-construction sound monitoring, Morris said. They also require First Wind to fix problems that occur, he said.
Created with assistance from First Wind, the state’s largest wind-energy company, the Oakfield Wind Energy Review Committee’s 45-page report “represents an achievement in part because it implements a very clear complaint process and complaint resolution protocol where that hadn’t existed before,” said Ken Kaliski, a noise control engineer hired by the town to help craft the guidelines.
“It also introduces a [guideline wherein] low-frequency sound levels will instigate further investigation by First Wind, and that hasn’t been addressed before as well,” Kaliski added. “Finally, there is also an assurance now that any additional wind developer in town will be looked at cumulatively. Each additional project will take into account projects that came before it.”
The Board of Selectmen voted 5-0 Wednesday night to approve the guidelines. Though he voted in the affirmative, Selectman Dennis Small felt that the computer model that First Wind would use to calculate noise levels at the wind farm is flawed, Morris said.
Voters still must approve the guidelines at a town meeting Sept. 28, when residents also will discuss a moratorium that would halt the project for six months to allow further study of the wind farm proposal, Morris said.
The board also voted 5-0 Wednesday night to approve a resolution supporting the guidelines instead of the temporary moratorium, Morris said.
Done between June 17 and Aug. 31 at a cost of $90,000 in consultant’s fees, the committee’s work was superb, Morris said. It will set a standard for other towns facing wind farm developments, he said.
“This sorts out the process,” Morris said. “Hopefully, it eliminates a lot of question marks and gives people a greater understanding of the project.
“There were a lot of goals met, a lot of concessions by First Wind,” Morris added. “The town, through the committee, really did its due diligence. Hopefully, [the report] will achieve what is in the best interests of Oakfield.”
Headquartered in Massachusetts, First Wind submitted an application to the town and state officials to build a 34-turbine, 51-megawatt industrial wind development project on Oakfield Hills.
If approved, it will be the first project visible from Interstate 95.
Proponents believe wind power to be a safe, pollution-free, efficient and inexpensive way to generate electricity, which also creates jobs, generates tax money and broadens the state’s industrial base.
Opponents call wind sites blights upon the landscape that lower property values and produce a fraction of the promised electricity. Opponents claim the wind farms also pose a health hazard to humans and animal life with the turbines’ light flicker, low-decibel sound and rare incidents where ice gets thrown from spinning blades.
With the nearest nonparticipant’s home about 2,500 feet from the closest turbine, committee members don’t expect ice throw to be much of a problem, but noise might be, Morris and Kaliski said. To address problems, the report recommends:
— First Wind shall submit its construction schedule to the town at least 21 days before any construction start and ensure the pre-blast surveying includes bedrock wells. It shall provide a written notice to the town and to all affected landowners with structures located within 2,000 feet of any blasting area at least three days before any blasting operations.
— First Wind should collect one-third octave band data during monitoring carried out in accordance with state regulations. The data should extend at least to 20 Hz. Twelve Hz is the lower third octave band limit in response to complaints of acoustically induced building vibration or rattle.
“We are trying to ensure that the sound, especially low-frequency sound generated by wind turbines, does not have enough energy to rattle homes or windows,” Kaliski said. “This limits any factors of annoyance caused by low-frequency noise.”
— Within 12 months of the project’s operational start, First Wind shall conduct sound monitoring at two or more representative project locations. The turbines will be chosen in consultation with the Department of Environmental Protection and the town based on their having the highest potential to exceed applicable noise standards.
— In addition, special consideration shall be given to landowners who have registered sound complaints.
— Town selectmen shall seek that the Oakfield Wind Project Sound Complaint Response and Resolution Protocol be included in First Wind’s current Site Law Application before the DEP, or that the DEP include it as a condition for approval.