Proposed wind power ordinance limitations debated

4 mins read

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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