Orland voters narrowly reject wind moratorium



ORLAND — In a special election Tuesday, voters narrowly struck down a proposed 180-day moratorium on wind power projects. Residents voted 282-277 against the moratorium, which would have temporarily prevented the town from accepting any proposals from a wind developer.

A citizens group calling itself the Friends of Dodge Hill has been calling for the halt, arguing that it would allow the town time to tighten its wind power regulations ahead of a proposal by New Hampshire wind developer Eolian Renewable Energy.

Eolian hopes to build a three-turbine, 9-megawatt project on Whites Mountain and Dodge Hill in North Orland, near the Dedham, Ellsworth and Bucksport borders. The company has projected it would contribute $150,000 annually to the town tax roll.

In 2013, residents voted 439-258 in favor of Eolian’s concept. Two years earlier, the town approved a wind ordinance that the Planning Board adapted from a state model.

But those who supported the moratorium argued that the current regulations aren’t strict enough, given the limited body of research around a young industry.

Those living closest to the proposed turbines have been the most vocal in their opposition, expressing concern about reduced property values, public health and environmental risks and the uncertainty that the project will really generate the property tax Eolian representatives have said it would.

In the last couple weeks, the Friends of Dodge Hill have been rallying for the moratorium. After the vote, organizer Nikki Fox wrote in an email that she’s “heartbroken” it came within five votes of passing.

While she trusts the ballots were counted properly, Fox said she’ll be calling for a recount. According to Town Clerk Connie Brown, that’s allowed.

One of the group’s main goals was to extend the allowable distance between turbines and homes from a half-mile to a full mile. The group has argued on behalf of residents in neighboring towns who would be exposed to the turbines, but had no say in the moratorium vote.

“There would be so many of us who would be significantly impacted by 500-foot turbines less than a mile from our homes if this project were to happen,” Fox said. “It is my hope that the Orland Planning Board takes the information that has been provided to them regarding our concerns and decides that the ordinance should be revised, despite the moratorium not passing.”

The town selectmen have expressed their hope the moratorium wouldn’t pass, on the grounds that no evidence has emerged to suggest the current wind ordinance would put any residents in immediate harm. They’ve also pointed out that the three-turbine project would generate economic development and be small compared to some of the large-scale wind facilities getting constructed around the state.

After the vote, Selectman Ed Rankin Sr. said he was glad so many had turned out. Going forward, he said Planning Board meetings concerning Eolian’s project would be open to any members of the public.

Travis Bullard, Eolian’s project manager, also was in the town’s community center when the votes were tallied. He said the vote “affirmed the town’s support for wind energy and well-developed regulations.” He also expressed appreciation to those who turned out.

Eolian representatives have said extending the wind ordinance’s setback requirement to one mile would have made it impossible to carry out a project anywhere in Orland. The company had originally proposed to build turbines in Dedham, too, but backed out when that town tightened its wind regulations.

Bullard couldn’t offer a specific date for when Eolian plans to submit its project proposal, but said it would be in the “coming weeks.”