Wind test towers hit turbulence at Portland Planning Board

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PORTLAND — The Planning Board has scheduled a public hearing on June 23 on a proposal that would allow temporary towers for wind meters throughout the city.

But the idea is running into opposition from residents and even some Planning Board members.

Wind meters, or anemometers, are placed on temporary towers and used to test wind speeds and directions. Data is collected for at least a year – sometimes two – and analyzed to determine whether a particular area is suitable for a wind turbine.

Although city administrators are presenting the proposal as a simple means to research, residents and some Planning Board members fear that putting a wind meter on a 100-foot tower is an inherent precursor to a turbine.

There are two wind tests waiting to move forward: one near the East End
Community School on Munjoy Hill and another on Peak’s Island. The Planning Board proposal would allow those tests to move forward while the city drafts an ordinance regulating wind turbines. City officials said there is no guarantee that wind turbines being eyed for the sites will be allowed. 

The proposal would allow – with approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals – temporary towers of up to 150 feet to test wind speeds and directions in most parts of the city, with the exception of the airport business, island business, office parks, resource protection, stream protection and overlay zones. No site plan would be required. 

The board held a workshop on the proposed regulations on May 26. City Planner Jean Fraser said the city received five letters in opposition to the East End wind test and two in support. For Peaks Island, the city received 24 letters of support and three expressing concern.

Although board members generally supported the wind test proposed for Trott-Littlejohn Park on Peaks Island, which is considered an open space, most members expressed concern about the proposal for the East End Community School. There was no school representative at the meeting. 

Board member Joe Lewis expressed reservations about allowing a 100-foot wind tower near the school and Loring Park at the corner of North Street and the Eastern Promenade. He said his opposition stemmed from concerns about the safety of school children and pedestrians near the tower and the cables that would anchor it to the ground. 

The proposal calls for a setback from habitual buildings equal to the tower height, but is silent about setbacks from property lines and places where people gather. The feasibility of erecting a wind turbine at a particular site – the goal of any wind test – is not a consideration in the proposal. 

“It just seems staggering that we would consider – even just to grab a few kilowatts of energy from the wind – that we would throw up a 100-foot tower that could fall on children,” Lewis said. “It’s not like we haven’t had towers fall in Portland.” 

Lewis said he also believes the project near Loring Park would be an eyesore, “an impossibly ugly feature to add to an impossibly beautiful place.” 

Board Chairman David Silk said he is concerned that the current wording of the proposal, which would not allow the ZBA to deny a wind study on the basis of location if it meets conditional zone requirements. Silk also faulted the proposal for not setting a minimum threshold of insurance for the tower. 

Board member Lee Lowry suggested that it is inappropriate for the city to be considering the wind meters separately from an ordinance for wind turbines, which is still be researched by city staff and will not be ready for another few months. 

“I do wonder if it is the cart before the horse,” Lowry said. “I would be stunned to think we would put a real (energy) generating facility (at the school).”

Meanwhile, North Street resident Joan Sheedy said the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization has formed a committee to study the proposed regulation, in addition to wind turbines. Sheedy, a MHNO director, said there have been a lot of rumors about wind energy circulating on the hill – from proponents claiming that a wind turbine would power all East End homes to opponents cautioning against so-called Wind Turbine Syndrome.

“There’s a lot to be researched,” Sheedy said this week. “We intend to study this and take a position on it.”

The public hearing on June 23 will start at 7 p.m. in room 209 of City Hall. If approved by the board, the proposed regulations would go to the City Council for final approval.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or