Ask at Town Meeting: Where is our wind ordinance?

Most Maine cities and towns use zoning, sometimes called a land use ordinance, to help them manage what is important in the community. Zoning can cover just about any land use: barking dogs, houselots, signs, parking… 

In recent years a new land use has captured the attention of municipal governments from Portland to Presque Isle: wind energy. While the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issues permits for wind projects, the state’s standards and protections are weak. But once a wind project permit is granted, you cannot protect yourself.

If your town has not prepared to deal with wind energy, FMM strongly suggests that you do it before a wind developer arrives seeking to build a massive project, with multiple towers as tall as Boston’s downtown skyscrapers. Communities that were not proactive on wind zoning have gone through hell when Big Wind suddenly came to town, pitting neighbor against neighbor, driving deep wedges and dividing communities. Big Wind is a dirty, ugly business that has driven Maine people from their homes, ruined property values, and decimated communities. 

It’s much better to plan.

Since it’s now town meeting season, why not take the initiative right now? Contact your local officials and let them know you want to be prepared. Show up at town meeting and make it an issue.

Good news: there’s no need to re-invent the wheel. Dozens of Maine communities have adopted a wind ordinance. Some simply wrote their own, others used a bare-bones template provided by the State Planning Office. (That is a good starting point, but no town should adopt the state's version as-is.) Some of the best written wind ordinances are in little towns like Sumner, Thorndike, Phillips and Buckfield. See the list HERE, many with live links to the actual ordinance, or relevant news stories.

Many of the early-adopting towns called “timeout” with a six month moratorium on accepting wind project applications. During the six month moratorium they learned about Big Wind’s land use implications and they drafted an ordinance suitable for their community. Now many communities are simply doing a cut and paste of these best ordinances from other towns. 

Momentum is growing, and not just in towns and cities that are capable of writing ordinances. Last year almost 50 communities in Maine’s Unorganized Territory -- where there is no municipal government – chose to be removed from a state zoning area where wind projects are easily permitted. See that list HERE.

Some of the major issues towns need to consider when writing a wind ordinance:

  • Noise – Wind turbines and homes never mix well. If you think a mile setback is a long distance for infrasound to travel, think again. 
  • Visual Impact -  Most people think favorably of wind turbines until they learn that they are very high impact and very low benefit.
  • Decommissioning -  Wind developers all use LLCs and they all promise the moon. They are in a highly speculative and unsustainable industry that is essentially a house of cards. To guarantee that someone is going to clean up the blight, you must require a performance bond and you must mandate that the landowner is ultimately responsible for decommissioning. These two requirements should be in every wind ordinance. 

So go to town meeting. Inform your neighbors. Demand a wind ordinance. Protect your community. FMM will gladly consult with any Maine community wishing to pursue a wind ordinance.