Wind test tower generates controversy

Rumford Falls Times
September 2, 2009

DIXFIELD—Now is the time for town officials to begin the process of creating an ordinance to regulate the development of wind power facilities.

That was the advice of Dixfield businessman Tom Powell, who, along with several other residents interested in taking a proactive stance on the issue of wind power, attended Monday night’s selectmen’s meeting to voice his concerns.

Town manager Eugene Skibitsky told those present at the meeting that on August 12 Patriot Renewables, LLC, a wind power company located in Quincy, Mass., had applied for a building permit to construct a temporary meteorological tower on Colonel Holman Mountain in order to test the area’s suitability for wind turbines.

Since Dixfield currently has no ordinances regulating land use except for shoreland zoning and subdivision ordinances, and the proposed testing tower did not fall under those regulations, Skibitsky said, the permit was issued. The tower was recently erected and is already collecting data, he said.

“The selectmen are in the very beginning phases of trying to learn about windmills and wind energy and what it means to the town,” Skibitsky said.

Powell said he had worked in the power generation industry, including on wind turbines in New York State. He said he was neither for nor against wind power, but he thought it was important for residents to educate themselves “about what wind power is and what it isn’t.”

Companies like Patriot, he said, “are just the front people. They go into an area to gauge the resistance and get the permits,” then once a facility is permitted, they turn it over to a larger company like First Wind, which operates numerous large wind power projects throughout the northeastern and western states. Wind power is a lucrative business, he said.

“You should understand that these companies are not motivated by the fact that wind power is ‘green energy,’” he said. “They are motivated by the green in their wallets.”

Powell said he felt it was important for towns to develop a comprehensive policy with regard to wind power facilities, because if there are no municipal ordinances in place, permitting is done on the state level by the Department of Environmental Protection. “And the state has said it wants to be a national leader in wind power,” he added.

“This is an industry that can quickly overwhelm you,” Powell said. “If you can get an ordinance in place, you get to be the ones to decide whether you want wind power in your town.” Without such an ordinance, he said, wind power companies are free to approach private landowners with offers to lease or purchase their land.

Powell offered to help selectmen educate themselves about wind power by bringing others who have worked in the industry to meet with them at a workshop on the topic

Others in the audience voiced their opposition to allowing a wind power facility to be built in their town, citing the degradation of the natural environment and concerns about the health effects of turbine noise.

“I don’t want to see the same thing happen here that has happened in Roxbury,” said Katie Chiasson, who has a summer home at Roxbury Pond. She said the controversy over the wind farm Record Hill Wind plans to build in that town “has torn the community apart, causing people who have known each other their whole lives to pass each other without speaking because one supported wind power and one didn’t.”

Freemont Tibbetts accused town officials of deliberately keeping quiet about Patriot Renewables, LLC’s interest in Dixfield as a potential site for wind turbines.

“None of these people would have even known this was going to be discussed tonight if I hadn’t gotten the word out around town,” Tibbetts said.

Of the information Powell had provided on the wind industry, Selectman Steve Donahue said, “I’m humbled. I guess I don’t know as much about it as I thought I did.”

The board agreed with residents on the need to start the process of developing a regulatory ordinance as soon as possible. They set a date for a workshop to study the issue and work out the details of creating a town ordinance. That workshop will be held on Wednesday, September 9 at 5 p.m. at the town office.

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