Camden Select Board proposes three-town wind committee
Camden — The Camden Select Board will invite its counterparts in Hope and Rockport to join in appointing a three-town committee to explore the feasibility of a wind turbine project on Ragged Mountain. That decision was made unanimously by the board at its Aug. 17 meeting, which was held at the Camden Yacht Club.
Prior to reviewing a report from the Camden Energy Committee that culminated in the recommendation to form the three-town committee, the board heard from community residents, who expressed concerns about wind development on Ragged Mountain.
Speaking for a number of those citizens, Ken Gross read a letter that touted both the advantages and disadvantages of a project that has yet to be clearly defined. The letter referred to the symbolic advantage of moving toward greater use of renewable energy and the possibility of providing less expensive power to those served by the turbines.
On the negative side, the letter referred to environmental degradation from construction as well as damage to the visual aspects of the Ragged Mountain ridgeline. It mentioned possible and as yet unknown impacts on wildlife and concerns about sound impacts for those living in the Hosmer Pond watershed. Gross also spoke about possible effects on the quality of the water that runs off the mountain into the wells of those living in the area.
Gross said he and others he had spoken with wanted to be sure to state their concerns before any project gained too much momentum. He said he hoped the board would charge any working group it created with assessing the level of public support for a Ragged Mountain wind project before spending funds on other parts of a feasibility study.
"Cooler heads have suggested that I wait until there's a proposal to respond to," Gross said. "Based on experience, it's never too early to speak out."
At the June 18 Select Board meeting the Island Institute's Maine Coast Community Wind Program Director, George Baker, suggested a three-phase project that would begin with a feasibility study that the Energy Committee estimated would cost between $50,000 and $75,000. This first phase would analyze the technical, logistical, economic and environmental aspects of installing wind turbines on Ragged Mountain.
The second phase of a Ragged Mountain project, according to Baker, would be to secure permitting and financing. He said this project development phase would cost between $300,000 and $500,000.
"If you get through that, you go into construction," he said. "That would be the third and final phase, and the cost would depend on the extent of the final plan."
The committee stated it expected those funds to come from grants and private contributions, rather than from the concerned towns.
"It's easier in the early stages to alter the course of such a project," Gross said Aug. 17. He suggested that $50,000 could be saved at the outset by evaluating public opinion before pursuing any other feasibility study.
Bruce Malone of Barnestown Road asked the board to research other Maine communities where people have expressed concerns about existing wind projects.
Select Board member Deborah Dodge suggested that a feasibility study could be done in stages with what she called circuit breakers to halt further study if the costs of a project appeared to be too high.
"There may be costs that aren't financial that we aren't willing to pay," she said. "Take it slowly before spending the whole $50,000 or $70,000."
Andrea Young of Dirt Road asked where a wind project would be sited. Select Board Chairwoman Karen Grove explained that, while there is currently no specific plan to build a wind farm at any location, there are seven possible sites and not all of those are in Camden.
Young said it would be no good to build a wind project on the Hosmer Pond side of the mountain, but the Mirror Lake side would be preferable because "there's nobody there."
Town Manager Roberta Smith said the committee has been struggling with the relative priorities of defining a possible project and assessing public opinion. She said there was a need to define the community that would be involved in making the decisions and receiving any possible benefits of a wind project on Ragged Mountain. The land under consideration is owned by several entities, including the town of Camden, as well as private landholders, land trusts and businesses in Camden, Hope and Rockport.
"The committee recommends a work group to collect enough basic information to take to the public to see if they're interested or not," Smith said.
At the June 18 meeting, Baker said the community, once it was clearly defined, had four options for distributing the electricity generated by a local wind farm.
The first option, and the one Baker said was his favorite, was a competitive electricity contract with an established provider such as the Constellation Energy Group.
Baker said the other options were working through Maine's Community-based Renewable Energy Act, forming a community supply group, and setting up a net metering program that would allow the community to sell power to the Central Maine Power grid in order to lower local electricity costs.
Members of the Camden Energy Committee have expressed a desire to move on to other aspects of improving the town's energy consumption and production options.
In a letter to the Select Board dated Aug. 9, the committee wrote, "There are also initiatives other than wind development that the Energy Committee has been tasked to explore and it is time to turn our focus onto something other than wind."
"We believe it is time for the Select Board to make a decision on whether to continue with further wind power exploration on Ragged Mountain and, if so, to appoint a committee solely focused on wind power," the letter said.
The letter contained a recommendation from the committee that the Select Board form a nine-member Ragged Mountain wind committee that would include representatives from Hope and Rockport. That committee would comprise four members from Camden, two members from Hope and three members from Rockport.
The new committee would be charged with the following tasks.
- Conduct and fund, through grants or fundraising, further feasibility research to address logistical, technical, economic, and environmental issues, as well as the scope and type of a potential project.
- Conduct community outreach to assess the level of interest and tolerance for a Ragged Mountain wind project.
- Coordinate wind ordinance development within the three towns.
The Energy Committee submitted a draft document to the board that would create such a group, naming it the Ragged Mountain Wind Workgroup. The committee called for that group to have wide representation, knowledge and interest in wind energy, self-sustainability and the environment.
The duties outlined for the proposed group include the following.
- Talking with abutting landholders.
- Developing the scope of work for an initial feasibility study in order to "obtain enough information to begin a public outreach process."
- Working with state and federal agencies.
- Creating a budget and fundraising.
- Developing educational materials and assessing community support or opposition to a wind project on Ragged Mountain.
- Coordinating the development of related ordinances in the three towns.
- Providing reports and recommendations based on their work.
The proposal called for the town of Camden to designate staff support for the work group and encouraged the involvement of the town's development director.
The Select Board voted unanimously Aug. 17 to create the Ragged Mountain Wind Workgroup, and to invite the towns of Hope and Rockport to join that group. If approved by all three towns, the work group would comprise four members from Camden, two from Hope and three from Rockport. Members would be appointed by the individual towns' governing bodies. The board invited anyone interested in serving as a Camden representative to fill out a committee interest form. These are available at the town office and online at the town's Web site at camdenmaine.gov.
In casting his vote, Select Board member Morgan Laidlaw said he wanted outreach to be the work group's first priority, before more money was spent.
"If we get a reaction like tonight, then why move forward," Laidlaw said.
The Camden Energy Committee regularly meets the first Monday of the month. Since the first Monday in September is Labor Day the committee's next meeting will be rescheduled.
The Herald Gazette Reporter Shlomit Auciello can be reached at 207-236-8511 or by e-mail at email@example.com.