RUMFORD — In their ongoing effort to retrofit a state wind ordinance template to local needs, selectmen Thursday night generated plenty of discussion on the issues of shadow flicker, safety setbacks and decommissioning, but few certainties.
In concluding the more than two-hour meeting, Selectmen Jeff Sterling, Brad Adley, Mark Belanger and Greg Buccina tasked each other with determining key points that should be in the decommissioning section.
They would then review those points at their next workshop and determine what to include in the ordinance.
They also agreed to have town attorney Thomas Carey determine whether town law would supersede Maine Department of Environmental Protection permitting rules requiring a decommissioning bond from a developer.
That issue came up when Neil Kiely, director of New England development for Boston-based wind energy company First Wind, asked Andrew Fisk of MDEP if it was statutorily possible in Maine to enter into an agreement with one bonding authority if Rumford came up with its own bonding requirement and that was different than DEP's rule.
The issue was avoiding the effect of double jeopardy and no one really had an answer, although Fisk said one entity or the other would execute the bond.
Other decommissioning requirements raised were ensuring that developers restored turbine sites to pre-development conditions after removing the equipment, when developers should have the required amount of money to decommission a site, and who and what determines when a wind farm reaches the decommissioning stage.
Albert Aniel of Mexico also suggested that selectmen consider getting decommissioning money up front from developers to protect the town should the developers go bankrupt.
Safety setbacks were the only thing that got settled, although no votes were taken. Selectmen generally agreed to follow DEP's requirement that the distance to the property line be 150 percent of the maximum turbine blade height.
What to do about turbine blade shadow flicker — the alternating light intensity produced by a wind turbine as the rotating blade casts shadows on the ground and stationary objects — was left mostly undecided.
Some selectmen wanted to go with language and numbers proposed in the Bethel regional draft wind ordinance. That would limit exposure to shadow flicker to no more than 30 hours a year from homes and property lines, and no more than 10 hours annually from roadways.
Adley suggested checking with the state transportation department to learn if it has rules regarding shadow flicker and roads after learning that DEP doesn't. Fisk said DEP only uses the 30-hour rule.
But when asked if any Maine wind farms are exceeding that, Fisk said no.
“The actual data coming in is that it's much lower,” he said. “Sometimes it's only two hours and sometimes it's in the mid 20s.”
He suggested the board get worst-case numbers and include further assumptions in the ordinance.
Although the agenda stated Fisk would do presentations on each topic, selectmen only had him fielding questions, both from them and the audience.
In the end, Adley suggested going with DEP rules on some topics, because they were more comprehensive.
“The one thing we can do, and I'm not advocating it, but we could just go with the DEP decommissioning standards,” he said.
To which, Sterling agreed, but Belanger and Buccina didn't chime in.
They then decided to revisit decommissioning and shadow flicker at the next workshop.
“I'm not ready to make decisions yet,” Adley said.
“I don't think I'm ready to go line by line yet,” Sterling added.
Buccina accepted that and then reiterated that whatever they decide, they should remember that ordinances are designed to protect a town's residents into the future.
Belanger stressed that the ordinance should also regulate development and not ban it outright, but be simple enough so that citizens can understand it.