Franklin Countys First News

Proposed wind power ordinance limitations debated

FARMINGTON - Selectmen took no action when it came to three ordinance proposals at a public hearing tonight.

Planning board member Tom Eastler holds up a sound level meter to demonstrate conversational noise levels at the selectmen's meeting.

Lowering the acceptable limit of wind power turbine noise was a concern of one resident who attended the hearing on proposed changes to the town's zoning ordinance regarding residential and small commercial wind energy system development. The proposal sets the acceptable noise level limit, measured at the property line, for residential wind energy at 60 decibels.

Resident Burt Knapp of West Farmington, said that's too loud.

"I want to encourage the town to make it a little stricter and adapt a 30-decibel limit," Knapp said. He cited the examples of noise complaints at Mars Hill and Vinalhaven's wind power turbine projects. And, he noted that the town of Phillips, which passed at last town meeting a comprehensive wind power zoning ordinance that, in part, was guided by a sound engineer's study and advice, has a noise limit set at 25 decibels. Thirty decibels is considered a little above ambient noise and since Phillips is a small town with small noises, the limit was set at 25 decibels, he explained.

Sixty decibels, Knapp added, "is considered conversational speech. Above that, studies have shown that sleep is disturbed." He added decommissioning costs weren't mentioned in the proposed amendment and there wasn't a tax impact statement included.

Sitting two rows of chairs behind Knapp, planning board member Tom Eastler, held up a sound level meter and said Knapp had been speaking at a 50-decibel level. Eastler, raised his voice to say he was speaking at a 80 decibel level.

He pointed out that the measurement of noise would be taken at a property's line and not necessarily close to the wind turbine, which generates noise from its tip speed, blade going by its pole and gear box.

He acknowledged having studied the Phillips wind power ordinance and said if Farmington were to adapt the same standards, "we might as well be saying we don't want wind power," alluding to its strict regulation limits for wind power development.

"What is bothersome noise?" Knapp asked, adding that studies have shown that people's sleep has been disturbed at as little as 30 decibels.

Resident Bob Vallette said we're used to the noise of tractor trailers and jet engines and asked "why would we want to stop businesses" from developing wind energy projects? Eastler also added that perhaps other wind power uses, such as aerating a pond, pumping ground water or powering machinery should be exempt from the standards.

Code enforcement officer, Steve Kaiser said he wanted to digest the comments and work on further refinement of the proposed wind power zoning ordinance amendment. Selectmen took no action on the matter to bring it to voters at town meeting or, then, on an addition of medical marijuana clinics and dispensaries to the town's ordinance, also up for voter decision. Proposed is adding language to keep possible future clinics in the business districts of town. Also the idea of licensing taxis operating in town met with little discussion. The proposed addition would require background checks, prohibit drivers with serious or recent multiple convictions and other restrictions to receive a license before operating in town.

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10 Responses »

  1. Why doesn't anyone discuss the simple economics of this wind power joke? Franklin county folks love to help out of staters get rich at their own expense. Back out all subsidies and then take a look at the business plan for any wind power project. In a few years taxpayers will be footing the bill for dragging the burned out and abandoned junk off our mountain tops.

  2. People aren't generally talking at you while you're trying to sleep. That would be bothersome. That's the point. It's not a plane going overhead. It's a plane going overhead and never landing. And in a rural, usually quiet (particularly at night) area.

    Farmington is too populated for a larger scale wind project and the smaller scale ones have a ridiculous ROI timeline.

    Be a good neighbor. Draft a reasonable wind ordinance accounting for sound, flicker, safety, visuals.

  3. Thanks Captain Planet. A few questions about wind power, in general, for those who truly want to understand some of the impact on our region, if we do not take time time to study and learn from what has already occurred.

    First, the destruction of our mountain tops for the profit of a few? Why are the citizens of Maine's unique western mountain areas the ones who must pay for this blight while out of state companies spring up every other day to take advantage of huge tax breaks and thus huge profits. We are exporting our scenic beauty and tax dollars to millionaires from Massachusetts to California with only short term financial gains for local municipalities. It's rape. Why not string them along the Berkshires as well? Closer to the population centers? I hear Nantucket gets pretty windy.
    Has sacrificing the wild beauty of our state shut down one coal or oil burning plant? Or reduced the carbon foot print of the big power plants to our west who have been polluting our air for years, causing acid rain and one of the highest rates of childhood asthma in New England? As we do our part for clean energy is big coal or big oil making sacrifices for the good of the planet or our national security interest?
    Are these hugely out of scale towers going to draw tourists who are looking for a wilderness experience, or send them and their vacation dollars somewhere else once they've discovered the Maine they knew is no longer there?
    Take a drive up to Height of Land and imagine what this rare wilderness view would be with a few thousand 450' tall turbines. We can find more suitable places for these wind farms but we need to slow down a bit and consider the irreversible damage we are doing to the mountains we cherish. Or do we ignore our plight until every mountain and ridge top in western Maine is covered with these things? When you can stand atop Sugarloaf and watch as thousands of turbines blow our money and heritage south to where greed trumps sanity.
    The biodiversity model in nature could be applied to our power needs. Wood pellets, rehabilitated dams with fish ways, and yes some wind but with more consideration toward location.

  4. Here's a warning to Farmington and any other community being preyed upon by wind power companies...

    Onced installed, the wind power company will run the turbines louder than whatever limit you set. To make up for losses they need to exceed whatever limit is set, if they can. Nearby residents will find this unbearable, and the wind company will leave it to these residents to prove the law is being broken. The residents, of course, cannot afford to do this (take it from us here on Vinalhaven). Neither can the DEP - that's why they don't monitor these places themselves.

    If they're arguing for 60 dBA limits, and if they ever produce those levels, life will be untenable as a neighbor. On Vinalhaven, we have not yet measured 55 dBA - our daytime limit with our three GE 1.5 MW turbines. We have measured 53 dBA at night, however. They regularly and reliably exceed the 45 dBA nightime limit. Because nobody but us are there to stop them from doing so. We have documented this, but getting the DEP to act on our information is difficult. Unfortunately, this is somewhat understandable, because the sitre has not been properly set up for critical monitoring and monthly reporting. Hence the DEP has no way of managing the site. We're working on making changes to this (maybe).

    If the site in Farmington (or wherever) is not yet approved, and the developer has not yet been given limits either by the town or by the state, the town needs to require the wind company to set a meter on their boundary for each property abbutting the site. They need to make the sound meter and MET tower data is freely availble directly to residents either through wireless access via the internet or cell phone connectivity. Most importantly the wind company must be required to produce a monthly report to the DEP detailing each instance of non-compliance. If this is not done, neither the residents nor the DEP will be able to afford any kind of discovery or enforcement.

    If not yet done, residents should immediately set about measuring pre-construction ambient sound levels. These measurements determine what the state limits will be for day and nighttime operations. Read the code. Do your homework now. Don't be an idiot like we were on Vinalhaven. Don't be a NIMBY (Next Idiot Might Be You).

    Contact us at info@fiwn.org

    Art Lindgren, Vinalhaven

  5. This will come as a terrible shock to some - but it's not always all about money. Quality of life needs to be considered too.

  6. Partial Solution; mandate any electrical device that uses electricity in its operation that when in use produces a minimum of 80 decibels of "bothersome noise" both industrially and domestically. Examples: Televisions, lights, respirators, white noise machines (i got a kick out of including that one), heaters,refrigerators, and air conditions etc... i am almost certain that much to my disappointment our "bothersome noise" tolerance threshold would increase accordingly.

  7. Wind power vs. other types of power generation is a HUGE problem. Wind power is green. Everyone is screaming about going green. Then there are those who don't want the turbines on the coast of Maine, on the Hills of Blue Hill, on the mountains of Kibby, or any place else.
    So what is the solution? Should we build big ole solar panels? Should we dam the rivers again? Oh, my..what about the fish?
    Someone has come up with wind power turbines, produced the equipment, and installed them somewhere. The price tag is huge. So that means it's big business. Oh, but they're the "bad guys". Not the fact that they pay huge amounts of taxes, which help US, the little guy taxpayer. But they ruin our woods, mountains, create noise, and are disgusting.
    So...what IS the solution??? Are we all supposed to go back to the "black" ages, prior to electricity? Those who lived through the Ice Storm of 1997 wouldn't agree. If we have no power source, we can't plug in our electric cars.
    We don't want to rely on foreign oil. But no one wants us to drill in sacred areas. We're disgusted by the devastation in the Gulf last year. But we keep plugging in our refrigerators, microwaves, TV's, recharge our cell phones, I-Pods, laptops and every other electrical device known to man.
    Our furnaces and air conditioners run on electricity. Our computers, and those of big business, also run on electricity.
    Someone must have a solution. But I haven't heard it yet. No solution to the wind turbines, no solution to alternative energy on a large scale, no solution to consumption.
    I, for one, am not turning off my computer, my TV, or my furnace. I'm not excited about going to nuclear energy again. I'm not excited about supporting foreign oil companies, but I have no choice.
    Everyone wants electricity, but no one wants any kind of generation plant "in their backyard". Even people who live off the grid need electricity, in spite of their living style. They go to the movies, and they use local laundramats. They use computers at the library. So...who's got the solution? But remember...to mass produce it, we've got to have big business.

  8. Isn't geotherm working for the college? Less invasive. I haven't heard complaints about it. Some homeowners have it. You don't have to wait for the sun to come out or the wind to blow.

  9. Not exactly what I said.... I was trying to make the point, poorly stated probably, that regulations should not be so restrictive as to prevent improvements to infrastructure in a way which discourages business.

  10. I met a man snowmobiling that owns a camp on land with windmills.
    His town not only did not give tax inc. financing but required them to give every resident free 500 kw per month of power and pay 1/2 of the property taxes for each property in the town.
    I do not have documentation on this but he seemed like an honest man.
    We should all require the same and make them use at least 33 percent of the power produced here to be used here.

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