AUBURN — Even though the bulk of all wind power regulations at the town level are pretty much the same, they can differ in big ways.
Panelists at a planning conference Thursday afternoon at Auburn's Hilton Garden Inn reviewed three ordinances designed to put limits on power-generating wind turbines. They looked at ordinances adopted by the town of Phillips, a measure being considered in the town of Dixfield and one being drawn up by Bethel and its neighbors.
About 120 town officials, managers and selectmen from across central Maine attended the daylong convention hosted by the Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments.
AVCOG planner John Maloney noted that most of the officials attending stayed for the afternoon session.
"This should be a good item," Maloney said. "Most times, people leave right after lunch."
Maloney said the discussion wasn't a debate about the merits of wind power, but about how towns have tried to regulate them.
The state's model ordinance suggests limiting noise generated by a wind turbine to 45 decibels at night and 55 during the day when it's measured at nearby residences.
But Dain Trafton, Planning Board member for the town of Phillips, said their ordinance went deeper.
"There is a great deal of controversy about noise, and we were not happy with any of the other solutions that were presented," he said. The town worked with an acoustic engineer to draw up rules that change based on individual turbines. Louder turbines need to be farther back.
"This approach benefits the manufacturer of quieter turbines," Trafton said.
Jim Doar, town manager of Bethel, said he has been working with the towns of Newry, Woodstock, Greenwood and Hanover to come up with regulations that suit all of them.
"It doesn't make much sense for Newry to have a limit of 35 decibels if Bethel builds a 65-decibel turbine within town limits that's going to affect Newry's residents," Doar said. He said he hoped work on that regional plan would be finished by the end of the year, in time to be voted on during next year's town meetings.
Kay Rand, of Bernstein Shur Government Solutions, cautioned town officials not to be too strict. Rand represents wind energy company FirstWind, but said that was not her purpose Thursday.
One section of a measure adopted in Rumford limits low frequency sound to 20 decibels.
"But a wind power manufacturer pointed out that they just cannot comply with that," Rand said. "At 20 decibels, the wind was that loud by itself. Wind power strong enough to turn a turbine was already that loud."