Thorndike residents to vote on rigid wind ordinance

Posted March 18, 2010, at 10:30 p.m.

THORNDIKE, Maine — Residents will decide at Saturday’s annual town meeting whether this small Waldo County town will become the latest Maine community to clamp down on potential wind energy projects.

A lengthy wind energy facility ordinance, which follows a yearlong moratorium on wind development voted into effect at the 2009 town meeting, would require mile-long setbacks between wind turbine towers and nearby homes. It also calls for a four-season sound study to be done by an independent “acoustical consultant,” among other considerations.

If the ordinance is approved, Thorndike will join the nearby towns of Dixmont and Jackson in adopting this level of restrictive local control for wind energy projects. Although wind developers say the strict regulations are essentially causing them to look elsewhere to build the turbines, local officials think giving voters the option is necessary.

“We’re just a small town looking to take care of our inhabitants,” said Jesse Hargrove, chairman of the Thorndike planning board.

But Andrew Price of Mount Harris Wind and of the Portland-based Competitive Energy Services thinks this type of ordinance goes too far.

“They’re not ordinances intended to govern responsible placement of wind,” he said. “They’re ordinances intended to prohibit wind.”

Mount Harris Wind built a three-turbine project on Beaver Ridge in Freedom in 2008, but has abandoned plans to continue building turbines in Dixmont and Jackson. The Freedom project spurred controversy after residents complained of intrusive noise and “flicker” coming from the turbines.

Hargrove said the trouble with turbines in Freedom has left “a bad taste in the mouth” of residents there.

“I think some of that has resonated around the surrounding communities,” he said. “I don’t think it’s really a matter of wanting to ban wind turbines.”

Thorndike Selectman Steven Fitton said he believes a big crowd will turn out for the Saturday town meeting, in part because the proposed wind ordinance likely will be a hot-button issue.

“From what I’ve heard, it’s kind of split,” he said. “A lot of people like it. A lot are against it.”

He said some residents have gone to Freedom to listen to the three turbines, and while some don’t like what they hear, others say it doesn’t seem so bad.

“There’s always some people against it,” Fitton said. “In some people’s eyes, they say, ‘Oh no, there’s no way I’d want it. It’s too noisy or it would clutter up the countryside.’”

For him, one important consideration is the potential increase to Thorndike’s tax base that could come from a wind development.

Price said, however, that Jackson’s and Dixmont’s new wind ordinances already have caused his company to stop all activity in those two towns. Even if Thorndike passed a “very attractive” ordinance for development, the current economic climate and low energy prices make it unlikely Mount Harris Wind would build more towers.

“Unfortunately, what’s happening in the state is that we’re saying we can only build wind far away,” he said, or simply import it from Canada. “At least it’s from Canada and not from the Middle East, but it’s not as good as us getting the tax benefits and job benefits.”

The Thorndike annual town meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, March 20, at the Central Maine Auction Hall.

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