Camden officials OK wind project feasibility study

Posted Nov. 20, 2009, at 10:06 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Saying that they are paying close attention to Vinalhaven’s community wind project, town officials this week agreed to a preliminary feasibility study for a wind project atop Ragged Mountain.

While no project is now in the pipeline, anemometers placed on the mountain three years ago found that the town has “a serious wind resource,” said Jeff Lewis, chairman of the Camden Energy Committee.

“It’s a very energetic site,” Lewis said Friday. “But if there were going to be a wind power project in Camden, it would have to be a community project, where the people would directly benefit from the turbines. … Everybody’s watching the Vinalhaven project with a lot of excitement. That community model is a really beautiful story.”

Select Board members voted unanimously Tuesday night to pay $5,000 to the Island Institute’s Maine Coast Community Wind Program for the feasibility study, although that is contingent upon approval from the town’s attorney.

“We’re kind of at a place where we need some more help to think about the options,” Lewis said.

The Maine Coast Community Wind Program is a partner in the Fox Islands Wind Project, which has placed three turbines on Vinalhaven to generate energy and help offset the islanders’ high electricity rates.

As is the case with other wind energy projects in the state, the Vinalhaven project is not without controversy. Neighbors have come forth to say that the noise generated by the turbines has been very problematic.

“There are pluses and minuses to anything like this,” said Deborah Dodge, co-chair of the Camden Select Board. “You don’t want to rush into anything. You have to be able to have enough time for everybody in the community to find out about this.”

The study the board green-lighted would analyze regulatory programs and look at options for an organization model for a wind project, according to Lewis and George Baker of the Maine Coast Community Wind Program.

“How do you do a community wind project without a community electric company?” Baker asked.

The study also could convene a “pretty serious” brainstorming session with state experts, including attorneys and politicians, and include discussions about what scale of project would be reasonable.

Dodge said the town would undertake any such project “very thoughtfully” and with deliberation.

“There are an awful lot of steps that have to happen before anything moves forward, but we all do know that Ragged Mountain has great potential,” she said.

The Camden Energy Committee is tasked with identifying potential local sources for alternative energy, among other things, and the sites they have hit upon in that quest include the Megunticook River as well as Ragged Mountain, which is home to the Camden Snow Bowl ski area.

After anemometers placed in 2006 and 2007 showed there was abundant wind, the committee members spoke with some developers to learn about what could be done. Possibilities range from doing nothing to putting a “very small” 100-kilowatt turbine on the ski slope to installing as many as seven turbines that “could light three towns,” Lewis said.

“But nobody’s thinking that’s reasonable,” he said. “It’s all just thinking at this point; and it’s completely reasonable to conclude we could decide not to go forward.”

He said that a wind project likely would be controversial, and that by no means is it certain the town would move forward with the project.

Any project ultimately would be put to a town vote, Lewis said.

That won’t be a slam-dunk for wind power proponents, according to Baker.

“If you thought Vinalhaven was iconic, try messing around with the Camden Hills,” he said.

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