BLUE HILL, Maine — With interest in wind power and communications increasing in Maine, several Hancock County towns are considering slowing things down to make sure they can effectively regulate construction of the associated towers.
At their annual town meeting earlier this month, voters in Penobscot adopted a six-month moratorium on the construction of commercial wind turbines and communications towers in the town. The moratorium gives the town time to develop an ordinance to regulate the towers and could be renewed for six more months if necessary.
The towns of Blue Hill, Orland, Brooklin and Stonington also are in various stages of considering a moratorium.
“We have nothing to protect ourselves,” said Judy Jenkins, who serves as code enforcement officer for those towns.
Many of these smaller towns have limited land use restrictions, Jenkins said Thursday, and developers of commercial wind turbines and communications towers are attracted to those areas where the permitting process is relatively easy.
“This [a moratorium] is not stopping them,” she said. “It gives people the chance to set some guidelines and to decide what they want in their town. If nothing’s in place, we’re up the creek.”
There already is interest in wind power and communication towers elsewhere in the county.
In Eastbrook, representatives from First Wind, which has a 28-turbine wind farm in Mars Hill and a 38-turbine facility on Stetson Mountain in Washington County, has begun preliminary talks with town officials about a wind farm project on Bull Hill.
Jenkins said she also has had inquiries from companies seeking to erect communications towers in Penobscot.
“They were all very excited that we didn’t have an ordinance,” she told Penobscot voters at the annual town meeting earlier this month. “You get some towns that don’t have any setbacks, and what do you do then? It opens the town up.”
Some county towns do have ordinances in place. Jenkins said Dedham has adopted an ordinance that sets height limits on towers. Castine has had tower restrictions in place since the 1980s when the federal government wanted to erect a Ground Wave Emergency Network tower in that town. The tower eventually was built just over the town line in Penobscot.
Support from both federal and state government has spurred interest in wind power, but Jenkins said towns need to be careful about where the wind turbines are constructed.
“People are just becoming aware of some of the health problems that can be caused by these things if they are too close to homes,” she said. “People are just learning about this.”
Opponents have argued that low-decibel sounds or vibrations from the windmills allegedly cause “wind turbine syndrome” or “acoustic radiation,” in which people have claimed to suffer symptoms including nausea, back problems, mood disorders, seizures and heart attacks. Strobe effects caused by rotating blades cutting sun-light also contribute, opponents say.
Peer-reviewed medical and public health literature has found no health risks from wind turbines, Maine’s public health director, Dr. Dora Anne Mills, has said.
Blue Hill will hold a public hearing on a proposed moratorium ordinance on communication towers and wind turbines at 7 p.m. Monday, March 22, at the town hall. Residents will vote on the moratorium at the annual town meeting in April.
Orland, which already has adopted an ordinance regulating communications towers, will hold a public hearing on a wind turbine moratorium at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 24, at the town hall. A special town meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 25, at the town hall to vote on the moratorium ordinance.
In Brooklin, the town’s planning board has approved a moratorium ordinance, but chose not to include it on the warrant for the annual town meeting. A public hearing and special town meeting will be set after the town meeting in April.
The Stonington Planning Board is expected to begin a review of a proposed moratorium ordinance at its next regular meeting.