ORLAND — With a New Hampshire wind developer getting ready to propose a three-turbine project in north Orland, a special town meeting has been called for residents to vote on a proposed 180-day moratorium on any wind power projects.
That vote will be held Jan. 20.
Ahead of the vote, a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 6, at the Orland Community Center will give residents a chance to or learn more about the issue or comment on the proposed temporary ban.
The selectmen have called the vote after a citizens group calling itself the Friends of Dodge Hill held two petition drives in support of the moratorium.
In a Dec. 3 letter to all residents, the selectmen said they didn’t feel a moratorium was warranted, but had “decided to take this issue to a town-wide secret ballot vote.”
The Friends of Dodge Hill, whose members have spoken at several town hearings in the last year, argue the moratorium would give the town an opportunity to adopt stricter regulations concerning the height of any proposed turbines, as well as the distance they could be from residences.
The town’s current ordinance was adapted from a model put forth by Maine regulators and approved at an open vote in 2011.
The policy now requires turbines be a half-mile from homes. But the citizens group argues the requirement should be at least one mile.
The developer, Eolian Renewable Power of Portsmouth, N.H., hasn’t yet filed an application with the town.
According to its website, the project in question would be located on leased private land atop Whites Mountain and Dodge Hill, near the borders of Dedham, Bucksport and Ellsworth.
It would consist of three wind turbines expected to generate enough power for 2,700 average Maine homes, the website says. Eolian estimates it would pay Orland annual property taxes of at least $150,000.
In November 2013, Orland residents voted 439-258 in favor of Eolian’s project.
In their letter to residents, the selectmen referenced that vote and said they hadn’t since learned of any “specific evidence of serious public harm” that could result from the town’s existing ordinance.
The selectmen also described potential benefits from the project, including new tax revenue.
The citizens group, though, argues that studies about the potential harms of wind generation facilities have come out in the last five years that would best be considered for the well-being of locals.
In a mailer it is sending out this week, the group states, “We believe there is enough new data to reasonably ask for a review of Orland’s ordinance.”
Nikki Fox, an organizer with the group, said members collected 110 signatures in the latest petition. She expressed appreciation for the selectmen calling the Jan. 20 vote.
At the same time, Fox explained, she moved here five years ago and at the time wasn’t aware a wind power ordinance was even being written. She knows of even newer residents who are in the same boat.
“I feel like we as citizens have the right to ask them to review the ordinance,” Fox said. “We just feel like our ordinance isn’t strong enough.”
Two other measures also will be on the Jan. 20 ballot going to Orland voters. One would consolidate the town’s three elected assessor positions into one. The other would require a building permit for properties outside the shoreland zone.