A wind energy ordinance for the city of Portland has been a longtime coming, but after several months of dialogue at the Planning Board, council subcommittee and City Council level, such a document has now been approved.
The council amended a proposed ordinance to ensure that windmills are co-located with industrial or utility facilities when built within city Recreation/Open Space (ROS) zones — in response to wariness of the turbines popping up in parks and nature trails, as voiced by councilors Cheryl Leeman, Jill Duson and Kevin Donoghue — and then unanimously passed the amended language Wednesday night.
The ordinance would allow wind turbines as tall as 160 feet in some areas of the city, namely industrial, airport business and [when co-located with the aforementioned facilities] certain recreational open space zones. By comparison, Maine’s tallest building — Franklin Towers in Portland — stands 16 stories, or 204 feet, tall.
Wind towers taller than 300 feet have been installed in rural parts of the state.
In residential zones in Portland, the windmills are proposed to be capped at 45 feet in height on properties larger than half of an acre where there isn’t a pre-existing lower height limitation.
They would not be allowed in stream protection areas, historic landscape districts or historic cemeteries, but in nearly every other city zone, at least roof-mounted windmills — reaching no taller than 10 feet above the structure height — would be permitted.
When planned for within 100 feet of a historic structure or landmark, the ordinance calls for a project review by the city’s Historic Preservation Committee.
For freestanding wind power systems taller than 85 feet, the ordinance would implement a setback requirement of two times the height of the windmill from the property lines, and four times the height of the windmill from neighboring structures.
On Wednesday night, Planning Board Chairwoman Carol Morrissette described the months-long development of the new ordinance as somewhat of a balancing act.
“Our goal is to provide a framework within the zoning ordinance so we don’t have a knee-jerk reaction when somebody proposes one of these things,” she told the council. “The goal is to allow most wind systems in most zones while minimizing impacts on neighbors.”
Morrissette said Portland officials reviewed model ordinances from Minneapolis and Corpus Christi while piecing together their document.
Opinion on the subject was most abundant — and mixed — on Peaks Island, where residents in 2011 tested wind power potential at Trott-Littlejohn Park and reportedly found “insufficient” wind to justify putting in a turbine there.
“I am VERY concerned about the NOISE LEVELS generated by the windmill,” wrote Peaks Island resident Carol Fexa in a letter to city staff (her capitalization — presumably for emphasis — not mine). “SOUND CARRIES on an island. The tiniest of sounds are amplified because we are surrounded by a body of water.”
Fellow Peaks Islanders Ann and Gus Karlsen agreed.
“We would like to voice our opposition to ANY wind turbines on Peaks Island,” the couple wrote to city staff (again, capitalization is theirs, not mine), in part. “We were under the impression that the ‘wind tests’ there were not sufficient.”
But Sam Saltonstall, head of the Peaks Island Environmental Action Team, applauded the passage of a flexible city wind ordinance, telling the council Wednesday night that even though park testing came up short last year, the city should have language embracing the technology as it becomes more efficient and affordable.
Leeman’s amendment to the proposed ordinance, restricting windmills in Recreation/Open Space zones to be located alongside industrial or utility facilities, was approved by a 6-3 vote of the council. Councilors Donoghue, Duson, David Marshall, John Coyne and Mayor Michael Brennan joined Leeman in voting in favor of the amendment, while councilors Nicholas Mavodones, Ed Suslovic and John Anton voted against it.
After the ordinance was amended, the entire council voted to approve it.