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South Portland considers wind study at Wainwright Farms

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South Portland considers wind study at Wainwright Farms

SOUTH PORTLAND — City planners are considering a zone change that could lead to a wind turbine at Wainwright Farms, the city's sprawling athletic complex on Highland Avenue. 

The Planning Board is scheduled to consider a zoning amendment on July 28 that would allow wind test towers, or meteorologic towers, to be erected in the nonresidential industrial district.

Measuring wind speeds is the first step towards bringing wind turbines to the city. 

The zone change could clear the way for the city to receive free wind testing equipment from the Public Utilities Commission. The commission currently has two wind meters that it loans to communities throughout the state, but is seeking five additional devices using federal stimulus money.

The wind program, administered by Efficiency Maine, the PUC's conservation arm, lends equipment and pays for installation and removal, an estimated value of $10,500. Once a year's worth of wind data is collected, the information is analyzed at the University of Maine.

The city must change it's zoning before it can submit an application for the state program. 

The zone change would allow wind test towers up to 120 feet to be erected in the nonresidential industrial district, which include Wainwright Farms, Rigby Yard and Rumery Road. Towers would need a setback equal to its height from any property line and a 200-foot setback from any residential zoning district. 

Wind test towers would be considered a permitted use, City Planner Steve Puleo said, so applicants would only have to obtain a building permit to erect one. 

City Manager Jim Gailey said that wind maps suggest that the wind is strong enough to support a turbine at Wainwright.

Although the current deed restricts uses at Wainwright Farms to athletic and recreational activities, Gailey said he has spoken with the Wainwrights and they are not opposed to the city's efforts to explore wind power.

"They are open to the idea," Gailey said. "We wouldn't be pursing this otherwise."

Gailey said wind maps show that speeds are strong enough to support turbines at the wastewater treatment plant near the Casco Bay Bridge and Bug Light Park, but the city isn't pursuing tests at those locations. Both locations would present problems, he said. There are overhead power lines owned by Central Maine Power Co. and the Department of Transportation has a right of way for the bridge. 

Gailey said city officials believe that Bug Light Park is too sensitive of an area to be considered feasible for wind power. "We're not looking to explore that, because of the nature of the park," he said. 

Gailey said the city has a few options for using wind energy generated at Wainwright. The city could pump the energy into an electrical substation located nearby in Scarborough, or use that energy at Wainwright for irrigation and other electrical needs.

"A far-fetched plan would be, if there were ever lights installed on those fields, we could offset the lighting costs," he said. 

In June, Planning and Development Director Tex Haeuser said the city is looking to place a 100-foot tower, with guy wires extending 80 feet from its base. That area would need to be fenced in, he said.  

The Energy and Recycling Committee is spearheading the effort to receive wind-testing equipment through the PUC. Efficiency Maine Deputy Director Tim Vrabel said Wednesday he has not received word about the availability of stimulus funds for more equipment.

Energy and Recycling Committee member Angela Griffiths said exploring wind power is another step toward reducing South Portland's carbon footprint, a commitment made when it signed on as a "Cool Community" about two years ago. The state program, she said, is a great opportunity to explore wind power without costing taxpayers.

"We're thrilled to be exploring any kind of renewable energy," Griffiths said. "It (will be) a zero cost to South Portland and that's huge." 

The Planning Board is expected to make a recommendation about the zone change to the City Council, which may hold a workshop and two public hearings on the proposal. The board's July 28 meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. 

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net