Maine environmental commissioner denies First Wind’s proposal for Bowers Mountain

Nick Sambides Jr./Bangor Daily News file photo

Maine Department of Environmental Protection officials listen to residents discuss the proposed Bowers Mountain wind project during the portion of a public hearing open to the public at Lee Academy in April.

AUGUSTA — The Maine Department of Environmental Protection on Monday officially denied First Wind’s application to build a 16-turbine wind farm on Bowers Mountain in eastern Penobscot County.

In a letter signed by DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho, the department rejected the proposed wind farm because it would have “an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character” in the area, which includes eight lakes deemed Scenic Resources of State or National Significance within eight miles of the project site.

The official denial comes less than a week after the DEP staff recommended that the project be denied.

The 16-turbine wind farm would be located in Carroll Plantation and Kossuth Township. It was proposed by Champlain Wind LLC, a subsidiary of First Wind.

“We are disappointed in the decision by the DEP,” John Lamontagne, First Wind’s spokesman, said in a statement sent to the Bangor Daily News. “We believe the Bowers project is a well-sited project that will bring significant economic benefits for Maine and the region and it enjoys widespread support from nearly all of the state’s environmental organizations.”

Commissioner Aho was not available for a comment on Tuesday, but Mark Bergeron, who is in charge of land resources regulation at the DEP, backed up her decision.

“The department reviews each wind-power application thoroughly, making its permitting decisions within the context of the state’s environmental standards,” Bergeron said in a statement. “Our licensing staff reviews all wind power projects on a case-by-case basis and found that the proposed Bowers Wind Project would have an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses on the eight interconnected great ponds located within the project area.

“In addition, while the project area is designated as part of the expedited permitting area for wind energy projects, the great ponds are primarily located in the only area in southern and eastern Maine that is not designated as a wind expedited area, which is the Downeast Lakes Region,” he said.

This is the second time First Wind has been denied a permit to construct a wind farm on Bowers Mountain. The now-defunct Land Use Regulation Commission denied the company’s first proposal, which was for 27 turbines, in April 2012. The company reduced the number of turbines to 16 for its second attempt, which it submitted to the DEP in October.

First Wind does have the opportunity to appeal Aho’s decision to the Board of Environmental Protection.

The appeal process did work for another developer, Passadumkeag Wind Park LLC, which wants to build a 14-turbine wind farm on Passadumkeag Mountain in Penobscot County.

In November, Aho rejected Passadumkeag Wind Park’s plans to build its wind farm because of the potential impacts it would have on scenic views in the area. It was the first time Aho had rejected a wind farm developer’s application for a permit.

However, Passadumkeag Wind Park appealed Aho’s decision to the BEP, which in March reversed her decision and allowed the project to move forward.

Lamontagne said First Wind “will review the decision and determine whether or not we wish to appeal the decision to the BEP.”

Gary Campbell, president of the Partnership for the Preservation of the Downeast Lakes Watershed, cheered Aho’s decision to reject First Wind’s proposal.

“We are extremely pleased with Commissioner Aho’s decision to deny First Wind a permit for the Bowers Mountain Wind Project based on its unreasonable adverse scenic impact,” Campbell said in a statement. “This denial reaffirms the wisdom of [the] LURC denial reached last April. The DEP and staff spent many months studying this project and the proposed site. They concluded, and the commissioner confirmed, that this project does not comply with the scenic standard spelled out in the Wind Energy Act.”

First Wind currently operates five wind farms in Maine: Mars Hill Wind in Aroostook County, Rollins Wind in Penobscot County, Bull Hill Wind in Hancock County, and Stetson Wind I & II in Washington County.

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Comments

Penny Gray's picture

Thank you, Commissioner Aho,

Thank you, Commissioner Aho, and thank you, DEP. The cumulative impact of these industrial projects on Maine's scenic viewsheds threatens the very nature of Maine as well as its economic health. The value of Maine's iconic viewsheds has never been tallied, but tourism brings in over ten billion dollars a year and provides 174,000 full time jobs to Maine residents. Wind generators currently operating in Maine are falling far below projected power output, according to FERC figures, and Maine doesn't need what little power is being produced. The newspapers need to investigate how much this is going to cost the rate payer sooner rather than later, and our legislators and governor need to re-visit and re-write Maine's Expedited Wind Law before it's too late and these huge rusting towers dominate twelve thousand square miles of our viewsheds, drive up electricity costs and destroy our cherished quality of place.

Jason Theriault's picture

Aho is full of it

"an unreasonable adverse effect on the scenic character and existing uses related to scenic character”

Funny, you could say the very same thing about Long Falls Dam's effect on Flagstaff Lake.

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