Residents will be asked to approve or reject a newly-minted wind energy ordinance at their annual town meeting Saturday, March 20. The document, which requires a mile setback from the nearest residence, follows in the footsteps of recently approved wind ordinances in neighboring Jackson and Dixmont. But according to Thorndike town officials and representatives of several wind energy companies, the document may not see much use.

Thorndike’s efforts to draft a wind-energy-specific ordinance began after an October 2008 meeting in Jackson at which two wind energy developers announced plans to erect wind turbines along a ridge that runs from Files Hill in Thorndike through the northwest corner of Jackson to Mt. Harris in Dixmont.

Citizens Wind — a subset of Joe Kennedy’s Citizens Energy — and Portland-based Competitive Energy Services — doing business as Mt. Harris Wind, LLC, and known in Waldo County as the owner operator of the three-turbine Beaver Ridge Wind development in Freedom — claimed to have 15 to 17 lease arrangements between them with area landowners.

Later that year, Cape Neddick-based Ra Power expressed interest in locating a wind development on the Jackson town woodlot, but quickly turned its interest elsewhere.

Dixmont was the first of the three towns to pass a wind ordinance in November 2009, and Jackson voters approved their own ordinance at a special town meeting this February.

Thorndike Planning Board Chairman Jesse Hargrove said the October 2008 meeting in Jackson, and reports from neighboring Freedom, prompted Thorndike officials to begin work on their own ordinance.

“We started hearing from neighbors in Freedom who were less than pleased with how that [the Beaver Ridge development] turned out,” he said. “That got the ball rolling. It seemed like, OK, we have to get something on the books so that doesn’t happen here.”

Hargrove said the Planning Board used the Dixmont ordinance and a draft ordinance from Montville as a framework for the Thorndike document. Among these, he said, there were many similarities and also similarities to other documents the Planning Board researched. The Dixmont and Jackson ordinances each require a mile setback from the nearest residence. The Montville ordinance — to be voted on at the March 27 town meeting — would also require a minimum setback of one mile.

Unlike Jackson residents, who had a potential wind development site in the town-owned woodlot, and also had to contend with friction between the selectmen and the town’s Wind Power Sub-Committee, Hargrove said the process in Thorndike has been relatively painless. A citizens subcommittee created to advise the Thorndike Planning Board was disbanded after it became clear that group included many Planning Board members and was doing work that could otherwise be done by the Planning Board, he said.

Once the Planning Board began working on the ordinance, Hargrove said he couldn’t recall any non-board members attending the meetings to weigh in on the ordinance.

“Thorndike was a little different,” he said, “but I think we saw the writing on the wall.”

Selectman James Bennett said he didn’t know of any companies still looking to site wind turbines in Thorndike. “We could probably forget about making an ordinance, because Dixmont and Jackson have made theirs,” he said.

According to representatives of Citizens Energy, Ra Power and CES, all three companies have abandoned their efforts to locate wind developments in Thorndike, Jackson and Dixmont.

Speaking to VillageSoup March 12, Andrew Price of CES reiterated the message contained in a letter his company sent to Dixmont residents in October 2009. The mile-setback provision amounted to a “deal breaker,” he said.

“It was not an ordinance to govern the reasoned placement of wind turbines. It was to prohibit them,” he said. “It was effectively a ban.”

Price was speaking of the Dixmont ordinance, which he said would require 2,000 acres surrounding each turbine, but the same standards would apply to the other towns . CES held lease agreements on a number of properties, Price said, but none of them met the setback requirements, and he doubted that any property in the area would.

“They just don’t exist in Southern Maine,” he said.