EASTBROOK, Maine — By nearly a 100-vote margin, voters decided Wednesday night to adopt a wind energy facility ordinance that will be used to determine whether First Wind will be allowed to erect a commercial wind farm on Bull Hill.
The vote to adopt the ordinance was approved 113-14, according to Eastbrook Town Clerk Nellie Davis. By enacting the ordinance, voters have changed the town’s land use regulations to allow wind turbines, which have not been allowed until now.
Voters also decided by similar margins to amend the town’s comprehensive plan and its land use guidance ordinance, Davis said Thursday.
Residents and officials have been drafting and offering suggestions on the wind energy facility ordinance for several months, while First Wind has been waiting to see what the town decides. First Wind has been exploring the possibility of erecting a commercial wind farm in Eastbrook and neighboring Township 16.
Roseanna Rich, a resident who had raised concerns about how Eastbrook might be affected by the presence of a large-scale wind farm, said Thursday that she is ready to move on to the next step of the process. She said she is not opposed to wind power in general and will wait to see what specifically First Wind has in mind for Eastbrook when it submits its local permit application.
“We’re on to the next phase,” Rich said. “We’re hoping for the best.”
Dave Fowler, senior land manager for First Wind, said Thursday he was “excited” that wind turbines now are allowed in Eastbrook.
“I’m glad the town is showing good support,” Fowler said. “It is important that we get good support from the community.”
Fowler said the company is focusing on the Township 16 portion of the project first, and will expand its attention to Eastbrook after Bangor Hydro upgrades the capacity of a transmission line that runs past the project site. He said it could be six months to a year before First Wind submits its permit application to Eastbrook’s planning board.
Charles Yeo, the town’s first selectman, could not be contacted Thursday afternoon for comment. Yeo and several other local officials circulated a signed letter in the days before the vote that cited the potential financial benefits to the town of wind power development and urged residents to approve the ordinance.
Since 2009, the energy company has been looking into the possibility of erecting large, commercial-scale turbines on land owned by Waltham resident Duane Jordan in Eastbrook and neighboring Township 16. First Wind officials have said the overall project could have a total capacity of 80 megawatts, which would make it one of the largest such sites in Maine. First Wind’s two projects on Stetson Mountain in northern Washington County have a total power generation capacity of 83 megawatts, while TransCanada’s Kibby Wind facility in northern Franklin County has a total capacity of 132 megawatts.
First Wind has not indicated how many turbines it hopes to erect in Eastbrook and has yet to submit land use development plans to the town.
Company officials have said that if they pursue the project, they expect to work with the town to establish a tax-increment financing district and a community benefit fund. Town officials have said the town could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars each year as a result of such financial arrangements with First Wind.
First Wind officials have said they would try to establish similar financial agreements with Hancock County for the part of the project that would be in Township 16.
Eastbrook’s new wind energy facility ordinance requires that any turbine be at least one mile from any home, residential facility, or other types of location specifically listed in the document. No part of any allowable turbine may extend more than 500 feet in the air.
By comparison, the top deck of the tower observatory in the Penobscot Narrows Bridge near Bucksport is 437 feet above the Penobscot River, the equivalent height of a 43-story building, according to Maine Department of Conservation.
The 37-page proposed ordinance, including four appendices, also includes provisions for noise standards, safety setback distances, erosion control measures, decommissioning requirements and other regulations.
Catherine Carroll, director of the state Land Use Regulation Commission, said Tuesday that the agency has received from First Wind some but not all of the required application materials for the Township 16 part of the project. Blue Sky East LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of First Wind, has submitted the preliminary materials.
According to Fowler, First Wind hopes to have all the submission materials required by LURC turned in to the state agency by the end of this week.
According to a project description LURC has received from First Wind, the company plans to erect 19 turbines in Township 16. Each would have 1.8-megawatt capacity and be 476 feet tall at the tip of its blades. Some of the turbines in Township 16 on Bull Hill and Beech Knoll would be within 1,000 feet of the Eastbrook town line, according to a project map submitted to LURC.
Carroll said that whether LURC holds a formal public hearing on the proposal depends on how much public interest there is.
After the application is deemed to be complete, LURC is required to make a decision within 180 days, or within 270 days if it decides to hold a public hearing on the project, Carroll said. She said that no deadlines or public meetings have been set in relation to the proposal for Township 16. Any public meetings on the proposal likely will be held in Ellsworth, she said.