ANNUAL MEETING

Hancock County towns grapple with wind turbine, communications tower ordinances

Posted March 09, 2011, at 7:18 p.m.

PENOBSCOT, Maine — While plans for a major wind farm project in northern Hancock County work their way through the review and permitting process, towns in the western part of the county are developing ordinances that would locally regulate the construction of both wind turbines and communications towers in their communities.

Voters in Sedgwick, Penobscot and Brooksville at annual town meetings in the past week have adopted one or both types of ordinances. Votes on those types of ordinances also are coming up in other area towns at annual or special town meetings.

In Penobscot on Tuesday, voters at the annual town meeting overwhelmingly approved a wind energy systems ordinance that effectively prohibits large-scale wind farms.

That prohibition reflects the community comments to the planning board which developed the ordinance, according to Mike Harmon, a former town resident who worked with the board and has since moved to Millinocket.

“There was not widespread support for large wind farms,” Harmon said, “but they felt that people should be able to do what they wanted to with their own property.”

The ordinance specifically allows small systems, producing up to 10 kilowatts and medium-sized systems, producing up to 50 kilowatts. The midsized systems generate enough electricity to power 10 to 12 homes or one business. It restricts the height of all systems to 100 feet, which effectively prohibits the high-producing industrial scale systems which can be 400 feet or taller.

The ordinance also included setback requirements, 1.5 times the height of the entire turbine system, and stiff noise restrictions, according to Judy Jenkins, the town’s code enforcement officer.

One resident during the town meeting said the ordinance was not as broad or “open-minded” as it needed to be and suggested that a vote on it be postponed.

Selectman Paul Bowen reminded voters that the moratorium the community had enacted to give officials time to develop the ordinance was expiring that day. He also said that since the moratorium already had been extended by six months, it could not be renewed.

Residents recognized that the moratorium expiration would leave the town without any regulation on wind turbine development and they passed the ordinance by a large margin.

Penobscot voters also passed by a wide margin a communications tower ordinance that drew less discussion. The ordinance limits the height of such towers to 190 feet, avoiding

FAA lighting requirements for towers over 200 feet. It also requires a setback of 1.5 times the height of the tower.

The towers must be painted an “unobtrusive color” and be nonreflective. They must accommodate a minimum of three additional antennae arrays.

On Saturday, voters in Sedgwick approved a wind turbine ordinance that, though similar to the ordinance in Penobscot, has more stringent noise requirements, according to

Jenkins, who also serves as code enforcement officer in that town. Where the Penobscot ordinance set the noise level at 35 decibels outside the property lines, the Sedgwick ordinance sets the maximum noise levels at 30 decibels.

A town committee in Sedgwick also is developing a communications tower ordinance, Jenkins said.

Brooksville already has two recently constructed cell phone towers in town which were approved while an ordinance was being developed. On Monday, in balloting at the annual town meeting, voters there approved a wireless communications tower ordinance by a vote of 163-149.

Other towns also are working on ordinances.

Orland has had a communications tower ordinance in place since 2003. Voters will act on a proposed wind turbine ordinance at a special town meeting on March 15.

Blue Hill and Brooklin will vote on local wind turbine and communications tower ordinances at their annual town meetings, both set for April 2. There will be a public hearing on the Blue Hill ordinances on Monday, March 14, and on the Brooklin measures Saturday, March 19.

Castine has had a tower ordinance in place since the 1980s restricting the height of towers in town. Last year, the selectmen approved a lease for a communication tower on town-owned land at the transfer station, which was identified in the town’s comprehensive plan as an appropriate site for that type of tower.

In Deer Isle, the town has enacted a moratorium on wind turbines and is in the process of  developing an ordinance to regulate their construction and siting. The town has no specific ordinance governing communication towers which are regulated by the town’s land use ordinance, according to Code Enforcement Officer Hubert Billings.

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