Wind power’s grip on Augusta weakening as ‘God’s Country’ presses its case

They came from the townships and plantations of Concord, Lexington, Highland, Carrying Place and Pleasant Ridge. They set out for the statehouse in Augusta from the five sparsely populated backcountry communities set between the Kennebec and Carrabassett rivers, from a wooded intervale etched by streams, dappled by lakes and cradled by the hills and mountains of western Maine.

Photo by Naomi Schalit

Highland Plantation

Wind act doesn’t treat all Mainers equally

The Wind Energy Act doesn’t treat every Maine citizen the same – some have more rights that others.

For example, the communities in the Unorganized Territory that the act put in the “expedited” permitting zone lost their right to weigh in on land use changes that would allow wind power to be built. Yet their neighbors just one community over who aren’t in the expedited zone still have the same rights they always had.

Norman Kalloch testified on L.D. 616 — even though his township, just north of Highland Plantation, isn’t in the expedited wind area.

“We, as residents of Carrying Place Town Township can participate in our township’s future through public hearings regarding zoning changes required for any high-impact development, including grid-scale wind development,” Kalloch told legislators. “By contrast, if the same wind project is proposed on the other side of the township line in Highland, our friends and neighbors there would have no opportunity or means to participate that is comparable to ours.”

And in the developed part of the state, residents of incorporated towns in the expedited zone there also have greater ability to act when wind power projects are proposed. They can pass their own restrictive ordinances to limit or ban wind power development. Finally, the Wind Energy Act of 2008 allowed state regulators to add areas to the expedited zone. But it included no provisions to take areas out, short of going back to the legislature and passing a bill.

Why are these communities treated differently? That’s not possible to determine because the members of the wind task force that made a map designating the expedited permitting area kept no minutes of the meetings discussing the map.

— By Naomi Schalit and John Christie

Photo by Naomi Schalit

The anti-wind-power forces are making their opinions known in a variety of ways. This sign is at the intersection of Long Falls Dam and Sandy Stream roads.

As they left, many of them passed a neatly lettered sign at the intersection of Long Falls Dam and Sandy Stream roads. The sign summed up what they were going to say to legislators later that day: “This is God’s Country. Don’t let wind towers come here and make it look like hell.”

The residents were headed to Augusta this past March 28 bearing petitions for redress. Their message had an urgency: there were two large wind power construction projects — Iberdrola Renewable’s Fletcher Mountain project and Independence Wind’s Highland Plantation project — that had been proposed for the mountains surrounding their communities.

Armed with the signatures of the majority of residents in their townships and plantations, they went to ask lawmakers to pass a bill to give them back the right to influence how the land in their communities was used.

That right, they said, had been taken away from them in 2008, when Maine adopted one of the nation’s most aggressive policies to promote wind power and put their communities in a fast-track wind development zone.

As Lexington Township’s Karen Bessey Pease said, “We weren’t asked when we were put in. We have the mandate of the people in these communities to not be in it — and we’re hoping the Legislature will agree.”

The bill was one of dozens of attempts over the last five years to roll back provisions of the Wind Energy Act. Almost every one of those bills had been rejected by lawmakers. But this time, there were signs that the ironclad consensus in the State House about the virtues of wind power was eroding.

Baldacci began it

The story begins five years ago when Gov. John Baldacci, nearing the end of his second term and eager to make Maine a national leader in wind energy, instructed a task force to devise a regulatory scheme that would streamline and speed up wind project permitting.

Baldacci’s ambitions dovetailed with the expansion agenda of the wind power representatives, the climate change agenda of the environmentalists and the economic development agenda of lawmakers on his task force, all of whom supported wind power. Task force members produced a report declaring that “Maine can become a leader in wind power development, while protecting Maine’s quality of place and natural resources, and delivering meaningful benefits to our economy, environment, and Maine people.”

The report’s recommendations were soon turned into legislation to make building wind projects easier in the state. Swiftly, unanimously and with no debate, legislators passed the Wind Energy Act of 2008.

To supporters of wind power, the legislation was a triumph.

It established “one of the most robust wind siting regimes in the nation,” said Eric Thumma, a representative of wind developer Iberdrola Renewables, a sister company to Maine’s Central Maine Power.

The Wind Energy Act set ambitious goals that could result in 1,000 to 2,000 turbines being constructed along hundreds of miles of Maine’s landscape, including the highly prized mountains where wind blows hard and consistent. The act eliminated legal obstacles that had long made wind development difficult in Maine:

— It weakened longstanding rules that required wind turbines “to fit harmoniously into the landscape.”

— It cut off a layer of appeal for those opposing state permits for wind power.

— It opened every acre of the state’s 400 municipalities to fast-track wind development, as well as one-third of the state’s Unorganized Territory.

Before the act was passed, three industrial-scale wind power projects had been built in the state; since then, seven have been approved and five of them built, with six more proposed projects under state review, according to state officials.

But to the residents of this quiet valley in western Maine, the law was no triumph. They say it took away their power to influence the future of their communities.

That’s because the law also knocked down one of the most significant obstacles to building wind towers in the rural areas of the state known as the Unorganized Territory, or UT. That obstacle was the restrictive zoning in the UT that did not allow wind turbines in the region. Under the old rules, a developer faced several steps in the Unorganized Territory to construct wind turbines. The first big hurdle was to get a rezoning.

A wind developer asking for rezoning “had certain criteria, certain hurdles that had to be met that, if you interpreted them with a straight face, you could never allow it,” said David Publicover, an Appalachian Mountain Club scientist who served on the task force.

Rezoning included formal input from citizens in the surrounding areas and beyond and could be a long and difficult process.

So in order to promote wind power development, the new law made wind turbines a “permitted use” in the approximately one-third of the UT that was designated by the task force as an “expedited permitting area.”

“One of the things (the law) did in these UT locations was, in a single stroke, make grid-scale wind energy a form of industrial development that did not require specific and appropriate zoning,” Lexington Township’s Alan Michka told legislators at the hearing. “Prior to this change, wind energy development required specific rezoning in all of the unorganized areas.”

Residents like Michka had believed that the rural character protected by that zoning was an immutable fact of life.

“We invested in our properties confident in the fact that no large industrial development would ever happen in our communities without a public discussion and a chance to be heard,” Maine Guide David Corrigan of Concord Township testified.

How the boundaries of that expedited area were set will never be known — the task force’s deliberations on the area were confidential and they kept no minutes.

Time for a second look

Almost three dozen rural residents came to the committee hearing on L.D. 616 and a number of other wind bills, and many of them spoke.

Sen. John Cleveland, D-Auburn, the co-chairman of the committee, signaled that the committee’s near-unanimous support for wind power might be changing.

“You’re talking to a brand new committee, folks who are committed to looking at your testimony, I don’t think we come precast in judgment,” Cleveland told them. “We’ll try to give you a fair hearing.”

The wind industry and its supporters were there, too.

Jeremy Payne, head of the Maine Renewable Energy Association, told the committee that they should reject the bill because “it specifically targets two known wind development project areas: Iberdrola Renewables’ Fletcher Mountain development and Independence Wind’s Highland Plantation development. The bill proposes to remove several townships and plantations from the Expedited Permitting Area, but, notably, offers no justification for doing so.”

Those two wind developers, Payne said, have invested “on the order of hundreds of thousands of dollars” in response to the Legislature’s “policy signal that these areas were designated as appropriate for wind project development.”

Ben Gilman, from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, warned legislators that any changes would discourage investment in the state by wind power companies, which had invested “more than one billion into the Maine economy” since the Wind Energy Act was passed in 2008.

“During our recent economic downturn this has been an important part of the Maine economy,” Gilman said. “Part of the reason for this increased investment was due to the expedited permitting process put into place by the Legislature.”

Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Barry Hobbins, D-Saco, said he now believes it is time to take a second look at the act.

“It’s a healthy idea for a committee of jurisdiction to re-evaluate and take a sounding of where we are and where we need to be in a future,” said Hobbins, who voted in favor of the Wind Energy Act in 2008. He said the committee could take “a step back and look at the whole thing,” especially, he said, because he was disinclined to take five communities out of the expedited wind area without looking at how other communities felt.

“Instead of picking and choosing, that whole issue should be re-evaluated,” said Hobbins.

An evaluation has already been done.

Lawmakers on the Energy and Utilities committee in the previous legislative session passed a bill requesting an assessment of the state’s progress in meeting the Wind Power Act’s goals and directing that legislation should be crafted from the assessment’s recommendations. The bill requested that the study “shall also consider whether places should be removed from the expedited permitting area.”

The assessment was delivered to legislators in 2012. In a section on wind project siting, the authors wrote, “The Governor, the Legislature, the Governor’s Energy Office, the Department of Environmental Protection and/or others should convene a panel to identify where in Maine expedited permitting would be allowed in a way that provides maximum energy, economic and environmental benefits and minimum harm to local residents and the environment.

“A public review process conducted by a broad cross section of individuals should be reinstituted to revisit the topics covered by the 2008 Wind Energy Task Force that identified the expedited permitting areas and the process.”

No action has been taken by the Legislature on the report’s recommendations. And the Energy and Utilities committee postponed the work session on LD 616, with no rescheduled date announced.

Former Rep. Wright Pinkham, a Republican who lives in Lexington Township, testified in favor of LD 616 and told lawmakers he regretted his 2008 vote to pass the Wind Energy Act. Several weeks later, sitting in the dining room of Highland Plantation’s Claybrook Mountain Lodge, he reflected on legislators’ reactions the day he testified.

“Sitting there, talking with them, they absolutely agree what the ramifications are. Between shaking their heads, ‘I agree, I agree,’ and the lobbyists that are going to put huge pressure on them, I don’t know,” he said. “It depends on the pressure that’s put on them and they are going to get a lot of pressure put on them.”

And he had hope that lawmakers would see things his way.

“I don’t think anybody consciously voted to take away the rights of people in Lexington, Highland, Pleasant Ridge, Concord and all of the Unorganized Territory that’s in the expedited wind area,” he said. “They had not a clue, and that happens a lot of the time in the Legislature.”

The Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting is a nonpartisan, non-profit news service based in Hallowell. Email: mainecenter@gmail.com. Web: pinetreewatchdog.org.

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Comments

Penny Gray's picture

This bill should pass. No

This bill should pass. No Mainer should be discriminated against because of where they live.

Mike DiCenso's picture

Peoples' Rights

should be the same for all Mainers. It makes no sense to deny a certain segment while allowing others to have a say. It used to be called discrimination, I believe. Now with Communication Experts and Public Relations pros playing word games and lobbying , the meaning of the word is twisted or lost. It is wrong and bad for Maine, despite what pro-industry wags claim. Just because ANY industry comes to Maine throwing lots money around does not mean they deserve preferential treatment. LD 616 is about fairness when all is said and done.

Hart Daley's picture

A whole billion? Get a clue Mr. Gilman

Wow. The wind industry invested a "whole billion" dollars into Maine's economy over the last (5-6) years, most of which was our own money derived from federal tax subsidies AND federal tax funded grants.....YET Mr. Gilman fails to recognize that Maine's largest industry, TOURISM, contributes many BILLIONS of dollars A YEAR into Maine's economy and is in serious peril from the onslaught of industrial wind projects across our state that destroy the Great State of Maine's scenic beauty, which attracts all those tourists and their BILLIONS of dollars......... "Excerpt: Ben Gilman, from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, warned legislators that any changes would discourage investment in the state by wind power companies, which had invested “more than one billion into the Maine economy” since the Wind Energy Act was passed in 2008.

“During our recent economic downturn this has been an important part of the Maine economy,” Gilman said. “Part of the reason for this increased investment was due to the expedited permitting process put into place by the Legislature.”

Brad Blake's picture

Gilman overstatement

In actuality, Gilman makes a huge overstatement, in that the wind industry always includes the total investment. To use the Rollins project in Lincoln Lakes that cost $176 million, most of that money went to China for the 40 nacelles (generators), to Brazil for the 120 blades, and the steel was from South Korea, but rolled out to its tubular tower sections in the USA. GE technicians were brought in for the start up and testing. Three companies made most of the local money: Sargent for site prep and road building, Maine Drilling and Blasting to destroy the ridges, and Reed & Reed to assemble the 389 ft tall machines.

I have a cousin who has a small construction company and owns a couple of gravel pits in the Lincoln Lakes region. He was gung-ho for the Rollins wind project, expecting to be hired on as a subcontractor and haul some of his gravel. Never saw a penny. Sargent used their crews 100% and they further destroyed the ridges by creating their own gravel pits--I have photos. Cousin Ron now despises the wind scam. Moral of the story: those who make $$$ off the scam love it while others see what a waste of money it is.

Dan McKay's picture

Of all the energy units on

Of all the energy units on this planet to convert to electricity, wind has favored status over manual labor only. Wind is impotent compared to hydro, all conventional fuel types and nuclear, yet demands the most taxpayer dollars per unit of produced electricity. Stop and think about it.

Brad Blake's picture

Subsidies

The wind industry would not exist without all the subsidies, tax breaks, and mandates. Wind is such a feckless source of electricity, that it requires far greater subsidies than any other source of electricity per Megawatt Hour. In July 2011, the USEIA published results for 2010 for subsidies per MWH (direct, tax, R & D, and electricity support). The subsidy per MWH is $52.43 for wind; the next highest is $2.78 for nuclear, then 84 cents for hydro, 64 cents for coal, and 63 cents for natural gas. Support for wind is bad economics, based on poor science, mandated by bad public policy caused by lobbyists influencing politicians pandering to be “green” rather than making sound decisions based on economics.

Karen  Pease's picture

Off on an tangent....

Oh, my word!

Please understand this fundamental issue...

LD616 is NOT about industrial wind on Maine's mountain summits.

LD616 is a CITIZENS' RIGHTS bill.

The only reason 'wind' is in the picture AT ALL is because it was the 2008 Wind Energy Act which implemented the Expedited Permitting Zone. This law was the vehicle by which less than 1% of Maine citizens lost a right that 99% of our fellow Mainers still retain.

Please don't cloud the issue, or allow 'wind' proponents to do the same. We lost our right to participate in the re-zoning of our communities...but almost everyone else in Maine DIDN'T. We are simply asking to have those rights restored to us.

This bill should be a 'no brainer'. If you are not willing or able to look your neighbors in the eye and say "I deserve more rights than you do", then you will not only support this bill, you will ask the members of the Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee to do the same.

They can be reached here:

RepMel.Newendyke@legislature.maine.gov
lanceharvell@hotmail.com
RepAaron.Libby@legislature.maine.gov
skime2@roadrunner.com
oronoryan@gmail.com
RepDeane.Rykerson@legislature.maine.gov
RepSara.Gideon@legislature.maine.gov
RepDiane.Russell@legislature.maine.gov
RepBobbi.Beavers@legislature.maine.gov
RepBarry.Hobbins@legislature.maine.gov
jcleveland@cdcorp.org
jacksonforsenate@hotmail.com
edmyoungblood@gmail.com

Respectfully and gratefully,
Karen Pease
Lexington Twp., Maine

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

can't be a casual observer of wind power.

Many environmentalists support Wind Farms in Maine in hopes of cutting fossil fuel usage and the resulting greenhouse gas emissions and global warming. It was cheap in political terms and looked promising. A few of them must of convinced themselves that the negative impacts both economic and medical could be ignored. That's the same process the big oil companies use. We can ignore their spills, the billions of pounds of toxic chemicals they emitted from the petrochemical plants and refineries because there are benefits - plastics, gasoline, distillates, drugs.
We should adopt a very simple rule - sacrificing the citizens of this country for your own personal goals isn't moral.
Wind power, industrial facilities need to be viewed by the totality of their impacts (actually I think all industrial facilities should be closed loop facilities everything that goes in must be accounted for and nothing goes out that has not be tested and approved but that's another story. A consistent, fact based, rational evaluations including all the impacts must be made and no one's interests should be sacrificed in that process. No tobacco Institute defense plans. Disinterested evaluations.
But now I'm getting utopian.
Bottom line Wind Power is over hyped, underdeveloped, and not in Maine's interest as currently planned and sited.

CLAIRE GAMACHE's picture

What's next?

Shouldn't we also be tearing down all those ugly cell phone towers too. And what about TV and Radio antennas UGH uglyyy!. Who needs tv, radio and cell phones anyway. It's a strange "coincidence" that this new attitude towards wind power just happens to come when we have so many politicians in Augusta under the financial and ideological influence of the Texas energy companies. The only thing this will accomplish will be to send the energy of the future to other states( mostly Western states) and we will pay them dearly for what we turned up our noses on here. It will be the price we pay for having leaders who are driving with both eyes firmly glued to the rear view mirror.

Karen  Pease's picture

Cell phone towers, etc....

Hi Claire,

While I understand you point of view, please let me say that the occasional 200 foot tall, slender cell phone tower and hundreds of miles of expensive, tax-payer-funded and massive 500 foot tall moving industrial machines atop our summits are...well, apples and oranges.

But that's neither here nor there. This story isn't about wind turbines, or about how they look. It is about right and wrong. It is about fairness. It is about the fact that less than 1% of your fellow Mainers had their rights summarily removed, without notice, and without our knowledge or input.

If you live in an organized municipality, you still have a say in any zoning or re-zoning decisions which might confront your community.

If you live in a UT OUTSIDE the EPA, you also have a process in which you can make your voice heard pertaining to zoning changes.

But we had that same right taken from us by an industry which wanted something we had... and didn't want --or dare--to ask us if we were okay with their taking.

Passage of LD616 will not disallow 'wind' within these communities. What it WILL do is restore to us the right and the ability to have input into whether or not such development is an acceptable use.

If you enjoy the freedom to 'have a say', I hope you'll respect and support our request to have that same freedom restored to us.

Respectfully,
Karen Pease

Hart Daley's picture

Well said!

Very well said. Equal rights. Industrial wind companies are in the business of negotiating with cash to infringe upon the rights of state residents. We have an industrial wind company contemplating a project in our town and they feel it is "fair" to establish setbacks from peoples' "residences" and not from their "property lines", thereby infringing upon the property owners right to enjoy ALL of their property. Money talks to shallow minded, greedy and sheltered thinking individuals.

Alan Michka's picture

Look at the positive

Some of those Texas energy companies happen to be proposing wind projects here, you know.

No one suggested tearing down anything, as far as I know. The suggestion might be to take the advice of impartial experts hired and paid for by the people of Maine, under the direction of the 125th Legislature.

Those experts suggested that our current statutory approach to siting wind power in Maine has some shortcomings, not the least of which is that Maine's siting process lacks "legitimacy" - the experts' words, not mine. You can see the report at: http://maine.gov/energy/pdf/Wind%20Assessment%202012%20Final%20Report%20...

Striving to find the fairest and most sensible policy and process for wind power, or anything else, shouldn't strike fear or panic in anyone. It should be welcomed, shouldn't it?

Brad Blake's picture

No Comparison

There is no comparing twenty two 459 ft tall (Record Hill in Roxbury) turbines sprawled over miles of blasted away, leveled, and scalped ridges lines with cell phone, radio and TV antennaes. It is apples and oranges comparison with the size, scope, and impact on the mountains and ridges. Besides, these types of towers have a broad use by and contribution to everyones daily lives. The wind turbines contribute less than 25% of their design output and are the most expensive form of electricity generation. It is far from the "energy of the future" you call it.

Betty Dove's picture

Not nice to look at?

I agree that the turbines will not add anything to the local landscape but neither do the clear cuts that have already been done and are still being done without being replanted. Going on a Sunday drive up to Rangley used to have some wonderful views now you can see big bald patches that have been cut away. Even coming down 142 you can see through the tree line the mess left behing. I am not against logging in any way but using the "site" of the wind towers as an excuse to not have them is getting old. Every thing comes with a price. Do you think people complained when Ethel brought in the mill? that sure wasn't and still isn't nice to look at but with out it where would we be? We need alternatives, we need changes to be made and if that should come with a big "pinwheel" in the sky so be it. Also look at how many people go out to the mid west to see the huge wind farms out there. Sorry I might not be as well informed as some are but I am just tired of hearing how bad it will look.

Karen  Pease's picture

Hi Betty...

Hi.

I just wanted to reply to your comment.

I agree that scenic impact alone is no reason to oppose a wind development. If the positive benefits of grid-scale industrial wind outweighed its negative impacts, scenic impact might be considered a negligible argument.

But this issue isn't one about 'wind' OR about how turbines look atop Maine's mountain summits. THIS issue-- this BILL-- is about citizens' rights. About fairness. About all Mainers standing on equal footing. 'Wind' has little to do with it... and only does at all, due to the fact that the bill wouldn't be necessary except for the Expedited Permitting Area, which was part of the Maine Wind Energy Act of 2008.

If you believe less than 1% of rural Mainers should have fewer rights than their fellow citizens, then it is okay to oppose LD616. But if you believe we should have an equal say in the zoning decisions of our homes towns-- as almost all Mainers do-- then you will support our request.

This bill isn't about 'wind', no matter what the industry and its supporters say.

Respectfully,
Karen Pease
Steven Pease
Jocelia Pease
Elias Pease
Lexington Twp., Maine

Brad Blake's picture

Please become more informed

Betty, I agree that some forestry practices are not good to look at and even injurious to the environment, but over the years these have improved. Sustainable forestry fosters the forest to re-grow. This is far different than the permanent disfigurement of our uplands by the vast amount of blasting and leveling to put in wind turbines. I would likely feel differently about the abrupt intrusion of 45 story tall machines in scenic Maine if they actually contributed in any substantial way to solving either energy or environmental concerns. But they are a miserable failure and not worth the price we pay as taxpayers to subsidize them or the increased cost of electricity when this most expensive form of electricity generation is mandated. Please take your last statement to heart and be weary of people's complaints about ruining scenery, but learn about the wide range of negative issues regarding wind power that has emerged in recent years after you and I and everyone else has been given only the wind industry side of the story for 20 years. A good place to start is here: www.friendsofmainesmountains.org

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

good thinking; good information

the more someone looks into it the less anyone can like it.

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

People and Wind Turbines don't mix.

Wind Power is good when properly sited. There are few if any sites in rural Maine where wind power farms are appropriate.

GARY SAVARD's picture

For , I think the first time

For , I think the first time ever, I agree with a Jonathan Albrecht post. At least in Maine, I don't believe the power generated by these farms will ever prove out to be a wise investment without the taxpayer dollars that fund them being factored in, and the offset of the damage being done to our outdoor recreation industry makes it even more of a bad deal.

Brad Blake's picture

Less than 25% output

Citizens Task Force on Wind Power has been tracking the large wind sites in Maine for 6 quarters. For 2012, the average capacity factor of Maine wind sites was 24.27%. Keep in mind that this is not only poor performance regarding total ouput compared to design capacity, but wind power is unpredictable, unreliable, cannot be dispatched when needed, and has required costly expansion of transmission lines and modifications to the grid to accomodate this constantly skittering source of electricity. It just isn't worth sacrificing Maine's greatest asset, its "Quality of Place".

Jonathan Albrecht's picture

I'll take one even the first anytime

You have summed it up well. I would have just added the impact on the residents.

Brad Blake's picture

Bad impacts on Residents

Everywhere these turbines have been placed in proximity to residents, there have been negative impacts. Freedom, Vinalhaven, Mars Hill, Lincoln, Lee, and Roxbury have had residents who have complained about ill health from the relentless audible noise as well as deleterious health effects from low frequency sound waves. 18 people brought lawsuits in Mars Hill. Lawsuits are pending in the other communities. Impacted residents in Freedom and Vinalhaven have brought their cases to the Legislature.

In addition, people have lost value in their properties and cannot sell. Lincoln alone has 780 waterfront properties that are year round homes or seasonal camps. Real estate activity is at a stand still while the market is being flooded with people who want to leave now that the turbines dominate the 13 lakes. My sister had a buyer for their camp on Mattawamkeag Lake in Island Falls last year and that person backed out when he found out about the huge 150 MW Oakfield wind project that will dominate that region. Wind projects are bad for everyone except those who profit from it!

Steve  Dosh's picture

Wind power’s grip on Augusta weakening as ‘God’s Country’

Mainers, 16:45 hst Monday
Hmmm. ." God forgive my little jokes on thee , and i'll forgive thy B I G one on me . " -- Robert Frost , 1 9 1 4 , A Boy's Will ( i think )
http://www.sunjournal.com/news/franklin/2013/05/20/umf-geothermal-well-p...
hth ^^ ;) /s Steve

Steve  Dosh's picture

btw - Thanks for the nice map

btw - Thanks for the nice map LSJ ® :)

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