PORTLAND — A proposal to install a 100-foot tower to test wind speeds near the East End Community School is drawing opposition from residents of a neighboring condominium complex.
The School Department was one of two groups in the state selected last summer by Efficiency Maine, a program run by the Public Utilities Commission, to participate in a year-long, state-funded wind study. Wind data would be collected by an anemometer on a 100-foot tower at the corner of North Street and Eastern Promenade.
But before the tower and anemometer can be installed, the Planning Board must send a positive recommendation to the City Council to change an ordinance that sets a 35-foot height limit on structures in the residential zone.
The board will take up the proposal on Tuesday, Jan. 27, at 7 p.m. in Room 250 of City Hall.
The wind study is opposed by residents of the Promenade Towers, an 80-unit complex at 340 Eastern Promenade.
Promenade Towers Condo Association President Jim Zafirson said the condos’ board of directors unanimously voted to oppose the project after the majority of the 20 residents attending a recent meeting spoke against it. Zafirson said the board will send a letter to other condo residents, informing them of the proposed tower.
Zafirson said that while alternative energy is a noble goal, he hopes the city doesn’t rush into this project without first researching the potential negative effects of windmills on nearby residences.
“They need to research wind turbine syndrome further to determine what the potential negative impact will be,” he said. “We feel confident that once they do their due diligence, they’ll understand why communities have adopted a 1.5-mile setback from residential properties.”
John and Judith Rastl, who own unit 155 in Promenade Towers, sent a letter to city planners objecting to the proposal. The Rastls said the goal of finding alternative, “green” energy sources is one they share, but argued that the East End’s population is too dense for a wind turbine.
“The proposed location has hundreds of people within 1/4 mile,” the Rastls said in their Jan. 12 letter. “There are studies documenting health problems … when wind turbines are located too closely to people’s residences.”
The Rastls also suggested the city undertake a study about the potential environmental and health impacts of a potential wind turbine so close to homes. They are also concerned about property values, and said studies in other communities suggest a minimum setback of 1.25 miles.
The proposal going before the board would allow the 100-foot tower for one year. Should the site generate enough wind speed for a tower, city planners, along with City Council’s Energy and Environmental Sustainability Committee, would craft a comprehensive windmill ordinance for the city.
According to a planning memo, there are only a few wind turbines in the city, but they have been able to meet existing zoning requirements.
Portland is among a growing number of communities drafting windmill rules. On other communities, windmill ordinances have proved contentious, with residents expressing concerns about size, style and noise of windmills in residential areas.
Cape Elizabeth passed windmill rules in the fall after a year-long decision-making process, and Topsham residents recently welcomed windmills. South Portland, meanwhile, is working on a comprehensive ordinance.
Will Gorham, president of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Association, said the group does not have a position on the wind study that could lead to a turbine because it was not officially notified of the proposal.
“If they were going to put such a thing in a residential neighborhood,
you’d think they’d contact the neighborhood association,” he said.
Gorham said he understands why neighbors are concerned about a project that could pave the way for a turbine so close to residences and a school. “Typically, those things (wind turbines) are located in more rural areas,” he said.
City Councilor Kevin Donoghue, who represents Munjoy Hill, said East End residents, with the exception of some living in the Promenade Towers, are generally supportive of exploring wind power on Munjoy Hill.
Donoghue said he expects to support the zone change for the temporary tower for the wind study. Should wind speeds support a turbine, he said, he would work to ensure that a wind turbine of an appropriate scale be installed.
School Facilities Director Doug Sherwood, who is overseeing the project for the schools, previously said a turbine of 200 to 250 feet would be needed to fully power the East End School. But Donoghue said the turbine’s size should not be determined by the energy needs of one facility.
“It should be driven by compatibility of the scale of the surrounding neighborhood,” he said.
If the project is a success, Donoghue said he would like to see similar studies for other school and city-owned properties, which generally are the only ones with enough land for wind turbines.