Sunday, May 04, 2008

Saco considers rules for home windmills

Portland Press Herald

The city may become the first in the state to set standards for placement of small turbines.

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By SETH HARKNESS, Staff Writer

April 28, 2008

The first city in Maine to erect a municipal windmill is considering what may be the first zoning ordinance in the state regarding residential wind turbines.

The Saco City Council is considering a set of rules to establish standards for placement of small windmills of the sort that could power a home.

With the city taking a leading role in wind power by putting up two turbines of its own in the last couple years, Saco City Councilor Eric Cote said many residents are inquiring about erecting their own windmills. The city has issued only two residential permits for these structures, but Cote said the city expects applications to rise.

Lynn-Marie Plouffe, who runs the 322-acre Dupuis Farm off Route 112, acquired the first two permits for private windmills in Saco. A contractor raised the first of these structures at the farm on Friday, a 50-foot windmill she hopes will help cut the electric bill by generating up to 800 kilowatt-hours per month.

Plouffe said the windmill cost $18,000, which potentially could be paid back with energy savings in 12 to 15 years. Production of 1,000 kwh is equivalent to about $150 of electricity. If the price of electricity goes up, as Plouffe expects it will, the payback period could be shortened.

"I can't understand why more people wouldn't do it," she said.

When Saco put up a 35-foot windmill beside the municipal sewage plant in the fall of 2006, it was the first residential-scale windmill in Maine, according to Cote. Two and a half years later, the councilor said about 80 of these devices are spinning around the state, including one at the Bush estate at Walker's Point in Kennebunkport.

"A lot of people have an interest," he said.

The ordinance under consideration by the Saco City Council would limit residential windmills to those with a capacity of 10 kilowatts or less. As proposed, residents throughout the city would need a half-acre of land for each structure they put up. Windmills could be placed only on single-pole towers no higher than 100 feet.

Saco may be the first community in Maine to pass a wind ordinance, but it isn't the first to consider one.

Last fall, the Cape Elizabeth Town Council considered a proposal that would have made windmills a permitted use under the town's zoning regulations. Earlier this year, the council's ordinance committee voted against allowing windmills on private property, although the committee did recommend installing a single windmill on town-owned land.

Cape Elizabeth Town Council Chairman Mary Ann Lynch said she personally agreed with the committee's decision. "It's an industrial kind of facility. Turbines make noise," she said. "We're a pretty compact town, and it's not a particularly appropriate development for a residential neighborhood."

Maine Municipal Association Director Mike Starn said he is not aware of any community in Maine that has passed a zoning ordinance dealing with windmills. As wind-power technology becomes more attractive to homeowners, Starn said, he expects many towns will begin addressing the issue.

On a national level, small wind turbines have begun to proliferate. Last year, 1,500 wind turbines of 10 kilowatts or less were sold in the United States, a 14 percent increase from the year before, according to Ron Stimmel with the Washington, D.C.-based American Wind Energy Association.

Nevertheless, Stimmel said, zoning restrictions are the second-biggest obstacle to the spread of the technology, after price. He said small turbines are gaining acceptance in local zoning codes, however, and thousands of communities nationally have passed ordinances permitting their placement.

Stimmel said five states -- Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, Michigan and Nevada -- have passed statewide regulations that require municipalities to permit the placement of small turbines unless local communities can show there are safety reasons for not doing so.

The Saco City Council will hold a first reading of the wind ordinance today. A public hearing is proposed for May 5.

Staff Writer Seth Harkness can be contacted at 282-8225 or at:

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