Zoning delays cost Portland state-loaned wind equipment; School Dept. to reapply next year

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PORTLAND — The School Department will have to wait at least until next spring – possibly longer – to conduct a wind study near the East End Community School on Munjoy Hill.

Portland was one of two communities selected last summer by the Efficiency Maine, an energy conservation arm of the Public Utilities Commission, to receive free wind testing equipment. The state program lends
equipment and pays for installation and removal, a value of
$10,500. Once the data is collected, the information is analyzed
at the University of Maine in Orono.

Since being selected by the state, the city has been working on amending its zoning to allow for wind testing equipment, which is typically placed on towers of more than 100 feet tall. The zone change has been slow coming, since some Munjoy Hill residents objected to the wind study out of fear it would lead to a wind turbine. 

Meanwhile, the wind testing equipment originally destined for Portland has been loaned to another community.

School Facilities Director Douglas Sherwood remained optimistic that Portland would be able to secure wind testing equipment through the state.

“The future of alternative energy sources in Portland looks bright,” Sherwood said. “We had hoped to be ready for an early fall 2009 install, but have given up our place in this cycle and hope to get the next available wind measurement loan possibly next spring.”

But Efficiency Maine Deputy Director Tim Vrabel said there are six other communities that have submitted solid applications for wind meters. Although efforts are underway to use stimulus money to buy two more, Vrabel said the state only has access to three wind anemometers: two owned by the University of Maine and one owned by Unity College.

Although getting a wind meter in Portland would be great for the program, Vrabel said it was unlikely the city would get preferential treatment.

“Out of fairness to the other communities, (Portland) really (does) need to go to the end of the line,” he said. “We have seen some really good applications from other communities.”

Vrabel said the resistance to the Portland wind study has prompted a change in the application process. Now, communities must prove their zoning laws will allow the equipment to be installed. 

The City Council is scheduled to conduct a first reading on July 20 of the zone text amendment approved last month by the Planning Board. A public hearing and final action by the council is scheduled for Aug. 3.

The proposal would allow wind towers, or meteorological towers, to collect data for up to two years. The towers, which would have to be approved by the Zoning Board of Appeals, would need a setback 1.1 times its height and its guy wires must not be a safety hazard to pedestrians. 

The towers would be allowed in all zones, except the airport business, island business, resource protection, stream protection and overlay zones. 

Applicants would have to carry liability insurance and provide a safety report, certified by a licensed engineer, along with their application. The report would have to demonstrate the tower is safe in terms of strength, stability, security, grounding, icing impacts and maintenance. 

Towers would have to be dismantled within 60 days of their two-year life.

There are currently two wind tests awaiting the zone change, the study at the East End Community School and one on Peak’s Island. 

Sam Saltonstall, of the Peaks Wind Group, said his group is ready to submit an application as soon as zoning is approved by the City Council. The goal is to get the equipment up and running by November, he said. 

The Peaks Wind Group is partnering with Unity College to erect a 115-foot tower in Trott-Littlejohn Park, where wind direction and speeds would be registered every 10 seconds. The data could be downloaded a computer and, if the group chooses, transmitted in real-time to the elementary school using cell phone technology.    

Neither the Peaks Wind Group nor the school district have drafted plans for wind turbines. City planners are currently working on an ordinance to regulate the type and location of turbines within city limits.  

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