Friday, February 16, 2007

War over wind

Maine Today
Staff Writer
February 16, 2007

FREEDOM -- Given their first chance to ask questions about a proposed wind turbine project, board of appeals members on Thursday offered a glimpse of the concerns they will carry into deliberations.

Representatives of Competitive Energy Services, which hopes to erect three electricity generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, were quizzed on issues of noise and whether they would be able to hook the turbines into the electrical grid, should the project go forward.

Anthony Rogers, the consultant hired by Competitive Energy to conduct a sound study, said he did not take ambient noise readings before concluding the proposed turbines would meet the 45-decibel limit mandated by the ordinance.

He based his findings on an ambient, or background, noise level of 35 decibels.

Steve Bennett, one of several abutters appealing the planning board's December decision to grant a permit for the project, said ambient sound readings he took over several days never fell below 33.5 decibels.

"The predicted sound levels (of the turbines) are very close to the limit," said appeals board member Francis Walker. "Whether there are ambient noises or not might make the difference in whether the project is compliant or not."

Andy Price of Competitive Energy said Rogers' study was intentionally conservative to ensure the turbines would not exceed the decibel ceiling. Noise can be reduced by slowing the turbine blades, Price added.

"(Rogers) made it very clear there are uncertainties, which is why he used conservative numbers," Price said.

Given the ambient noise, board Chairman Addison Chase said he found it difficult to believe Competitive Energy could meet the 45-decibel standard. Board member Mike Smith pointed out that if Competitive Energy exceeded the decibel limit the project could be shut down, but Chase wanted more certainty.

"Will you go on record as saying you will never ask for more than 45?" Chase asked Price. "I want to know you're committed to 45 or go home."

"I can't tell you what we would do (if the turbines exceed 45 decibels)," Price said.

The noise level was just one of the issues the board addressed. Members also wanted to know whether the company would be able to hook the turbines into the electrical grid.

The company believes it has the right to install utility poles over a road the town stopped maintaining in 1975.

Town attorney Al Stevens suggested that because the road was discontinued prior to 1977, the company lacks authority to install the poles.

The power company with which Competitive Energy works would have the right to take an easement by eminent domain, but would not be required to do so, Stevens said.

"If we can't get power, we can't build the project," Price said.

The board plans to begin deliberations at its next meeting, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. on March 8 at the Congregational Church.

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