Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Wind farm rejected in Freedom

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel
March 10, 2007

FREEDOM -- The town's Board of Appeals has rejected plans to erect three electricity-generating wind turbines on Beaver Ridge, putting in doubt the future of the controversial project.

After four weeks of hearings and deliberations, the board late Thursday found that Portland-based Competitive Energy Services' turbines would not meet town standards for noise, according to Addison Chase, chairman of the town's appeals board.

The decision overturns the Planning Board's approval of the project. CES has 30 days from next Thursday, when appeals board members plan to formally sign the decision, to appeal to Waldo County Superior Court. The company also could start the process over with the Planning Board, Chase said.

"If the ordinance doesn't change I can't see how the appeals board would change its ruling on the sound," Chase said.

It was the second blow for Maine wind power in the last two months. On Jan. 24 the Land Use Regulation Commission voted 6-1 against a proposed 30-turbine wind farm on Redington and Black Nubble mountains west of Carrabassett Valley.

Steve Bennett, whose property abuts the proposed site for the Freedom wind farm, led a group of neighboring landowners in bringing the appeal.

"We're quite pleased," Bennett said. "The impact on our property values could be extreme."

Calls to CES seeking comment were not immediately returned on Friday.

The Planning Board, which approved CES's application in December, agreed with scientist Anthony Rogers' study that determined the turbines would not exceed the 45-decibel limit set in the ordinance.

But Rogers, who never visited the Beaver Ridge site, based his findings on an ambient, or background, noise levels of 31 and 35 decibels, Chase said. Bennett's appeal included 10 studies conducted in other rural parts of the country that determined the average ambient level is actually between 40 and 50 decibels. Bennett's own studies concluded the ambient noise levels around Beaver Ridge hovered in the 40-decibel range.

"By using a more reasonable ambient sound level, the projected sound level would not meet the required ordinance," Chase said.

"I think the Planning Board did make a mistake when they just assumed what CES was telling them was correct," Bennett said. "I think the appeals board did their homework. Nobody should have to live in the midst of these things."

The Planning Board's decision required CES to post a bond for the construction phase. Chase said the Planning Board erred by not requiring CES to post bonding for future demolition of the turbines.

"The idea the bond was just for the construction phase didn't make any sense," he said. "The ordinance doesn't limit bonding in any way to just the construction phase."

The appeals board disagreed with the Planning Board in other areas, such as storm water management, Chase said. But the disagreements failed to reach the threshold of clear and absolute error required to overturn the Planning Board, Chase said.

Even if the turbines are built someday, there is doubt whether they could be connected to the electrical grid, Chase said. Because the road over which the utility lines would run was discontinued in 1975, Central Maine Power Co. would have to take a right-of-way by eminent domain, which the power company may not want or be allowed to do, Chase said.

The wind project has found overwhelming support among residents, who supported the turbines in two nonbinding votes. Tempers have flared at times in the past year since CES submitted its application, but the appeals board's decision was not based on emotion or bias, Chase said.

"(The decision) had nothing to do with the goodness of wind power," Chase said. "We weren't taking a stand on wind power; we were taking a stand on the project versus the ordinance and the evidence presented."

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