Voters in Washington County town approve wind power moratorium

Posted March 19, 2014, at 3:53 p.m.
Last modified March 19, 2014, at 4:35 p.m.

COLUMBIA, Maine — Town officials will be developing an ordinance to regulate wind energy projects after residents voted Monday to impose a six-month moratorium on such projects.

Virginia-based Apex Clean Energy Inc., a leading developer of commercial wind and solar energy facilities, has targeted Columbia for a proposed wind farm. The company and its predecessor management team have helped develop other projects throughout the U.S., primarily in the west. The firm also has worked on the First Wind turbine energy projects in Maine at Mars Hill and Danforth.

The Columbia moratorium was approved by a 28-16 vote at the annual town meeting on Monday night. The town’s Planning Board sought the moratorium in order to allow time to consider enacting local guidelines for the project, Selectman Mark Howe said Wednesday.

“It gives us time to put together an ordinance,” said Howe.

The Apex Clean Energy project may involve more than 30 wind turbines and several pieces of property, according to Howe.

Company officials met with residents on March 14 to brief them on their plans.

“We kind of walked away knowing we had a lot of homework to do,” said Howe.

The project, named Downeast Wind, would be situated both in Columbia and Cherryfield, according to Chris Swartley, Apex vice president for project development. It would generate between 90 and 150 megawatts of electricity, producing enough power for about 45,000 homes. The project would be an investment estimated at $170 to $270 million.

Swartley provided the information via email. Asked why the company met with townspeople just three days before the town meeting vote, Swartley said, “I think I’m going to let what I’ve already given you stand.”

Any large business project presumably would benefit the community in terms of generating property tax revenue, observed Howe.

“But we’re still a town,” he added.

The community is know for a small handful of businesses on U.S. Route 1 at an intersection known as the Four Corners and its bucolic blueberry barrens northward.

The moratorium is not considered adversarial in nature, said Howe.

“We just want the town to have a bit of a say in this,” he said.

When the Planning Board drafts the ordinance, it would have to be approved by the Board of Selectmen and slated for a vote at a special town meeting.

Apex Clean Energy was formed in 2009 by a management team with extensive renewable energy experience, according to the company’s website. Prior to the formation of Apex Clean Energy, the management team developed, financed, constructed and managed more than $10 billion in operating renewable energy facilities totaling nearly 10,000 megawatts of capacity, according to the company.

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