Residents of the small Waldo County town of Frankfort vote Thursday on an ordinance that would regulate a wind power project proposed for the top of Mount Waldo. The ordinance, say those who wrote it, will protect neighbors from noise and other impacts. The developers say the ordinance will effectively kill the project.
Wind power is rapidly becoming an issue for which facts and logic are secondary to feelings. It seems the feelings come first, and the facts and logic follow to make the case against this emerging technology. And the feelings usually begin and end on the matter of noise.
Those who have heard the horror stories of those living near wind turbines, describing a near constant noise, are right to be wary. A steady noise, whether it is the growl of truck engines idling or the hum of a bank of air conditioners, can be soothing to some and maddening to others. The latter response is legitimate and should not be dismissed as frivolous.
But the restrictions proposed in the ordinance that Frankfort voters will consider at the polls on Thursday go beyond reasonable. They suggest that the committee that wrote the ordinance was bent on stopping, not regulating, the project. Voters should consider their choice in this context.
One of the restrictions would have the wind turbines at least a mile from any property line, even those parcels with no buildings. The ordinance also calls for the project to generate no more than 32 decibels at the project property line. That level is equal to a whisper in a quiet library, according to some sources.
Because wind power has spurred such strong opposition in more rural locations around the state, the Frankfort project may be reaping some of that bad will, and unjustifiably so. Eolian Renewable Energy touts itself as a small company seeking to develop a niche different than the large-scale projects built in northern, eastern and western Maine.
One of the company’s principal owners, Travis Bullard, said he and his partners approached the market by focusing on high-wind sites that had road access, were already developed and were adjacent to power customers.
Mount Waldo, which the company says has great potential for wind, now has three communication towers over 300 feet high. An old quarry is near the summit and an old gravel road leads to the granite-faced parcel on which the turbines would be sited. And there are residential and a few commercial power users nearby.
In fact, the four to six 2.5-megawatt or 3-megawatt turbines planned for the project might be directly connected to the local electric distribution lines rather than the transmission lines used by large wind projects.
Eolian is currently testing a site in Orland and is preparing to develop a site in Anterim, N.H.
If residents are aesthetically opposed to more towers on Mount Waldo, or if they believe noise from this project will disturb their fellow residents, or if they believe wind power relies too heavily on tax breaks, they should approve the ordinance. But if they are inclined to believe the site is appropriate, they should understand the ordinance will kill the project, the $200,000 in annual property tax revenues and whatever other benefits the town can negotiate with the company.
The passions of wind power opponents must be tempered by the need for electricity and the need for Maine to wean itself from fossil fuel-generated energy.